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UN climate talks

September 25, 2007 By Jeff Tollefson This article courtesy of Nature News.

Some 80 heads of state gathered in New York City on Monday to discuss climate change. checks on their progress.

There have been so many international talks on climate change. Is this one any different?

The United Nations billed Monday's meeting as the largest ever gathering of world leaders on the topic of global warming. In that respect, it was indeed symbolic. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon sought to create a sense of mission by saying that the world's response to climate change will "define us, our era and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations".

At the same time, nobody expected anything concrete in the way of treaty negotiations. Although the event included four simultaneous sessions on adaptation, mitigation, technology and financing, its primary purpose was to engage world leaders and increase political support for action on global warming.

Did the United States play a role?

Although President Bush attended a dinner with the secretary-general on Monday evening, he did not make it to the main session. Some interpreted that as just short of a boycott. The United States is by almost any account the biggest missing link in international talks on curbing emissions.

What about other US players?

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke in Bush's absence, but most news stories focused on former US vice-president Al Gore, a Democrat, and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican actor-turned-politician who is charting new territory with green politics in the United States. Schwarzenegger said his state will not wait for Washington to take the lead on climate issues, while Gore garnered headlines by calling for quarterly summits by world leaders until a climate treaty can be negotiated.

What else happened?

French President Nicholas Sarkozy aligned himself with many European leaders in calling for a 50% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. The renegade in Europe would seem to be Czech Republic President Václav Klaus, who was reported by the Bloomberg press service as saying that despite all the hype, "there is no scientific consensus about the causes of recent climate changes".

So did anything get decided?

Phil Clapp, president of the US National Environmental Trust, says there was a "broad sense of agreement" that a treaty must be completed by 2009 that begins to reduce emissions within a couple of decades and achieves a 50-80% reduction by mid-century. "That is virtually across the board among all governments, other than the United States," says Clapp.

What happens next?

Bush will be holding his own climate talks, entirely divorced from the United Nations dialogue, in Washington later this week. His administration continues to push a strategy that is based on developing technologies and implementing voluntary plans at the national level — as opposed to binding commitments at the international level.

Those talks are controversial because many advocates of a binding global treaty see them as a diversion from the UN-sanctioned treaty talks. Some see hope, however, because major emitters like China and India that were not party to the Kyoto Protocol will be at the table in Washington.

Most observers think that the real action for this UN effort will commence in Bali, Indonesia, this December. The goal there will be to hammer out a process for negotiating the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The New York meeting was really the "official launch" of these negotiations, says Clapp.


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