Climate negotiators agreed Saturday on an ambitious agenda for talks they hope will lead to a global warming pact, overcoming a dispute between Japan and developing countries on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The schedule came after five days of marathon talks in Bangkok and requires negotiators to settle contentious issues, including how countries will cut emissions and how rich nations will help the poor adapt to climate change.
"Not only do we have the certainty that critical issues will be addressed this year, we now have the bite-sized chunks which will allow us to negotiate in an effective manner," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said.
Delegates also welcomed the agreement but warned significant disagreements remain over demands from the U.S. and Japan for developing countries to accept binding targets as part of a pact to stabilize greenhouse gases in the next 10 to 15 years and cut them in half by 2050.
"We can live with the work program but the negotiations ahead will be tough, very tough," said Prodipto Ghosh, a member of the Indian delegation. "There are wide divergences between different groups over the nature of the conclusions to be reached."
Talks had bogged down because of developing nations' opposition to discussion of a Japanese proposal to set industry-specific emissions reduction targets. Developing nations want rich countries to agree to set national targets first.
Goal is for 2012
Representatives from 163 countries met in Bangkok for the first negotiations on a pact meant to take effect after 2012. Scientists say quick action is needed to prevent the worsening floods, droughts and violent storms that would affect billions of people worldwide in a warming world.
The agenda postponed in depth discussions of the Japanese proposal until August to satisfy critics in developing nations. Instead, other issues — such as rich countries' efforts to help poor nations adapt to rising temperatures — will be discussed first.
Delegates also deleted from an earlier draft a call for discussion of what the U.S. emissions reduction targets might be in the new agreement, delegates said, leaving talk of that for 2009 — when a new American president will be in office. The Bush administration has been critical of deep emissions reductions.
The draft schedule also called for talks on the transfer of clean technologies from rich countries to developing ones at the June meeting in Bonn. A meeting in Ghana in August would address the Japanese proposal, as well as deforestation.
The Japanese plan triggered strident opposition from China, India and other developing countries. They argued it was an attempt to shift the burden from rich to poor nations.
Tokyo hopes for an agreement on energy efficiency targets for specific industries across national boundaries. Proponents say it would preserve competition, while rewarding countries like Japan that already have high levels of energy efficiency.
Poorer countries, however, fear it would favor nations with a technological edge by allowing them to make fewer cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They objected to holding in-depth discussions on it in June, as called for in an earlier plan.
"We would have very strong reservations," said Su Wei, a Chinese delegate who is responsible for the government's climate change policy. "It is intended to substitute for targets and would shift the burden on developing countries, which are not very advanced in energy efficiency technology."
'Protectionist scam' alleged
Ghosh dismissed the Japanese proposal as a "huge protectionist scam," while the G-77 grouping of developing countries refused to include any reference to it in the work plan.
Japan, which is struggling to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is campaigning to put its approach at the center of the future agreement, which is to take effect when the Kyoto pact ends in 2012.
Kyoji Komachi, who headed the Japanese delegation, said Japan was not using the proposal to force developing countries into the same emissions targets as wealthy industrialized nations. But he was happy with the final document.
"I think it's positive," he said.
The other sticking point has been the U.S. insistence that discussions over actions it will take to reduce greenhouse gases coincide with talks about what developing nations will do. Developing nations argue that U.S. and other industrialized countries should take the first steps in cutting emissions, since they are responsible for the bulk of today's emissions.
The new global warming pact is meant to succeed the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
The United States is the only industrialized nation not to have ratified Kyoto, but it agreed with nearly 200 other nations at a conference in Bali in December to negotiate a new agreement by the end of 2009.