Delegates at a U.N. climate change conference struggled Thursday to hammer out the text of a scientific report that will guide governments for years to come on their global warming policies.
One dispute involving the U.S. delegation centered on whether human activity could lead to "abrupt or irreversible" effects on the Earth's climate, said participants in the meeting.
Another focused on India's concerns over "adaptation" to global warming, a notion that implies greater financial aid to developing countries, participants said on condition of anonymity since the talks were confidential.
With just one day left in their timetable to complete the report, key differences were being sent to ad hoc committees and delegates were working late into the night to finalize a draft.
Some delegates at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, called the talks agonizingly slow, with hours spent over a single word or phrase. The meeting brings together delegations more than 140 countries, along with the panel of scientists who worked for more than two years to compile the draft.
The report by the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC summarizes three reports earlier this year on the scientific consensus and possible measures to slow the Earth's temperature increase. A Summary for Policymakers, about 20 pages long, draws on thousands of pages of scientific evidence and computer models.
The document requires approval by consensus, which obliges all participating governments to subscribe to its findings.
Several committees were working Thursday on a section meant to highlight advances in climate research since the last synthesis report in 2001 that cause particular concern, said participants in the meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity after the conference secretariat warned all delegates against speaking to the media.
According to a draft of the document, the section pinpoints five problems that are more stark than before:
- the risk to unique ecosystems;
- the risks of extreme weather events;
- greater identification of locations at high risk;
- greater certainty that global warming will have more negative impacts than benefits;
- the risk of abrupt and irreversible changes such as the extinction of species.
Sources said the U.S. delegation sought to tone down the language or eliminate the section altogether, arguing that the points appeared elsewhere in the document.
The specific U.S. objections include a sentence in the draft that said: "Human activities could lead to abrupt or irreversible climate changes and impacts."
U.S. delegates argued that terms like "irreversible" were unscientific and inappropriate in the summary, the participants said.
Other delegates countered that nothing was reversible about the extinction of species or the melting of polar ice sheets, as the scientists predict in some scenarios, the sources said.
Delegates also spent much time discussing India's concerns on "adaptation" to global warming, said the informants. Poor countries are keen that an international fund be set up to help them adapt to climate change.
Later Thursday, environmental activists led by Greenpeace planned to put pressure on the conference by calling for a brief nationwide blackout at 8 p.m. local time. Greenpeace said the conference venue, Valencia's futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, agreed to shut its lights for five minutes.
Friday night target
With many issues still unresolved, it was unclear if the IPCC would meet its self-imposed deadline of 6 p.m. Friday for completing the work and sending the document for printing.
It was to be released Saturday by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It would then become a reference for nations gathering next month in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss the next stage in global efforts to control emissions from greenhouse gases blamed for the warming trend.
Meanwhile, the U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, told officials from the world's largest oil producing countries at a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that their nations could be part of the solution to climate change if they use their oil wealth to develop clean technologies to remove the carbon content from their products.
"International action on climate change is a war against emissions, not a war against oil", he said, according to a text distributed by his office.
De Boer said new technologies offer new opportunities, but in any case the world must move away from carbon.
"Given the latest science being presented in Spain right now, it is increasingly clear that the world's development path is not sustainable and that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced to secure the very survival of humanity," he said.