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2005 UK / USA
Corpus of news articles
Earth > Climate change, Global warming
Fighting climate change
Agree on Steps
to Revive Climate Treaty
The New York Times
By THOMAS FULLER
and ANDREW C. REVKIN
Indonesia The world's countries wrapped up two weeks of intense and at times
emotional talks here on Saturday with a two-year timetable for reviving an
ailing, aging climate treaty.
The deal came after the United States, facing sharp verbal attacks in a final
open-door negotiating session, reversed its opposition to a last
minute-amendment by India.
"We've listened very closely to many of our colleagues here during these two
weeks, but especially to what has been said in this hall today," Paula
Dobriansky, who led the U.S. delegation, told the other assembled delegates. "We
will go forward and join consensus."
The Bush administration had earlier made a significant change in policy, ending
its long-held objection to formal negotiations on new steps to avoid climate
dangers. This time, the United States agreed to set a deadline for an addendum
to the original treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was
signed by President George H.W. Bush during his final year in office in 1992 but
never ratified by the United States.
The agreement notes the need for "urgency" in addressing climate change and
recognizes that "deep cuts in global emissions will be required."
Still, it does not bind the United States or any country to commitments on
reducing greenhouse pollution.
"It starts a negotiation that allows but doesn't require an outcome where the
U.S. takes a cap," or a national limit on greenhouse gases, said David Doniger,
a former climate negotiator in the Clinton administration and the climate policy
director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private Washington-based
The agreement sets the stage for some commitments by developing countries to
reducing greenhouse emissions. But it includes no language making such steps
U.S. negotiators here had pushed hard to get developing countries, including
emerging economic giants like China and India, to agree to seek cuts while
retaining flexibility on how to make them. The last-minute dispute Saturday was
over the wording of commitments by developing countries.
The overall agreement, if completed by 2009, would also ensure continuity for
parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which took effect in 2005 and is the only
existing addendum to the original climate treaty. The Kyoto pact limits
emissions by three dozen industrialized countries but has been rejected by the
United States under President George W. Bush.
Its emissions caps expire in 2012, and adherents, particularly European
countries, were eager to start the process of setting new limits to sustain
markets in emissions credits a keystone of the protocol. The carbon market
allows rich countries to receive credit toward their targets by investing in
climate-friendly projects in poor countries.
The Bush administration is increasingly under pressure domestically to take
action on global warming. Climate legislation is gaining momentum in the
Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress, and presidential candidates from both
parties are generally more engaged on the subject.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration's contention
that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant and ordered it to re-examine the case
for regulating carbon dioxide from vehicles ordered it to review its
environmental policies. Dozens of states are moving ahead with caps on
The differences in philosophy at the meeting were striking and fundamental.
European Union negotiators said they favored specific government-imposed caps on
emissions and wanted industrial countries to lead the way.
The United States favored relying on "aspirational" goals, research to advance
nonpolluting energy technologies and a mix of measures, including mandatory
steps like efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances but all set by
individual nations, not mandated by a global pact.
Developing countries, a vaguely defined group that includes countries as
different as China and Costa Rica, have long insisted that rich countries, which
spent more than a century adding carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to
the atmosphere, should take the first step.
The tenor of the conference improved markedly after European nations, frustrated
with the United States, threatened on Thursday to boycott talks proposed by the
Bush administration in Hawaii next month that would be separate from process
here, sponsored by the United Nations.
Germany's environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, who led the criticism of the
United States earlier in the week, said Friday: "The climate in the climate
convention has changed a little bit. It's true that during the last night and
during the negotiations America was more flexible than in the first part of the
We very much appreciate this. Not only the Americans but also other parties."
Reuters reported Friday that the European Union had dropped a central demand
that the guidelines for the agreement should include a reference to tough
emissions targets for wealthy countries to meet by 2020.
The mood here shifted after a speech Thursday by Al Gore, the former U.S. vice
president who shared the Nobel Peace Prize this year for helping to alert the
world to the danger of global warming.
After declaring that the United States was "principally responsible for
obstructing progress" in Bali, he urged delegates to agree to an open-ended deal
that could be enhanced after Mr. Bush left office in January 2009.
"Over the next two years the United States is going to be somewhere it is not
now," Mr. Gore said to loud applause. "You must anticipate that."
Developing nations, notably China and India, stuck with their longstanding
refusal to accept limits on their emissions, despite projections that they will
soon become the dominant sources of climate-warming gases.
Separately, participants agreed on a system that would compensate developing
countries for protecting their rain forests, a plan that environmentalists
described as an innovative effort to mitigate global warming.
Rain forest destruction is a major source of carbon dioxide, and living rain
forests, according to recent research, play an important role in absorbing the
gas. Precisely how countries with large rain forests, like Indonesia and Brazil,
would be compensated has not been fully worked out.
United Nations officials said part of the financing would come from developed
countries through aid and other financing would come from carbon credits traded
under the Kyoto pact.
Thomas Fuller reported from Nusa Dua,
and Andrew C. Revkin from New York.
Gelling contributed reporting from Nusa Dua,
and Graham Bowley from New York.
Nations Agree on Steps to Revive Climate Treaty,
A world dying,
but can we unite to save it?
Pollution in the seas
is now speeding global warming,
says a devastating new
'IoS' Environment Editor Geoffrey Lean
reports from Valencia
Published: 18 November 2007
The Independent on Sunday
Humanity is rapidly turning the seas acid through the same pollution that
causes global warming, the world's governments and top scientists agreed
yesterday. The process thought to be the most profound change in the chemistry
of the oceans for 20 million years is expected both to disrupt the entire web
of life of the oceans and to make climate change worse.
The warning is just one of a whole series of alarming conclusions in a new
report published by the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), which last month shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice
president Al Gore.
Drawn up by more than 2,500 of the world's top scientists and their governments,
and agreed last week by representatives of all its national governments, the
report also predicts that nearly a third of the world's species could be driven
to extinction as the world warms up, and that harvests will be cut dramatically
across the world.
United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the launch of the
report in this ancient ish city, told The Independent on Sunday that he
found the "quickening pace" of global warming "very frightening".
And, with unusual outspokenness for a UN leader, he said he "looked forward" to
both the United States and China the world's two biggest polluters "playing
a more constructive role" in vital new negotiations on tackling climate change
that open in Indonesia next month.
The new IPCC report, which is designed to give impetus to the negotiations,
highlights the little-known acidification of the oceans, first reported in this
newspaper more than three years ago. It concludes that emissions of carbon
dioxide the main cause of global warming have already increased the acidity
of ocean surface water by 30 per cent, and threaten to treble it by the end of
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP), said yesterday: "The report has put a spotlight on a threat to
the marine environment that the world has hardly yet realised. The threat is
immense as it can fundamentally alter the life of the seas, reducing the
productivity of the oceans, while reinforcing global warming."
Scientists have found that the seas have already absorbed about half of all the
carbon dioxide emitted by humanity since the start of the industrial revolution,
a staggering 500 billion tons of it. This has so far helped slow global warming
which would have accelerated even faster if all this pollution had stayed in
the atmosphere, already causing catastrophe but at an increasingly severe
The gas dissolves in the oceans to make dilute carbonic acid, which is
increasingly souring the naturally alkali seawater. This, in turn, mops up
calcium carbonate, a substance normally plentiful in the seas, which corals use
to build their reefs, and marine creatures use to make the protective shells
they need to survive. These include many of the plankton that form the base of
the food chain on which all fish and other marine animals depend.
As the waters are growing more acid this process is decreasing, with
incalculable consequences for the life of the seas, and for the fisheries on
which a billion of the world's people depend for protein. Every single species
that uses calcium in this way, that has so far been studied, has been found to
be affected. And the seas are most acid near the surface, where most of their
life is concentrated.
A report by the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific body, concludes
that, as a result, of the pollution, the world's oceans are probably now more
acidic that they have ever been in "hundreds of millennia", and that even if
emissions stopped now, the waters would take "tens of thousands of years to
return to normal".
Professor Ulf Reibesell of the Leibnitz Institute of Marine Sciences in Kiel,
Germany's leading expert on the process, concludes in an issue of UNEP's
magazine Our Planet, to be published next month, that, if it continues to the
levels predicted by yesterday's report for the end of the century, the seas will
reach a condition unprecedented in the last 20 million years.
He recalls how something similar happened when a comet hit Mexico's Yucatan
peninsula 65 million years ago, blasting massive amounts of calcium sulphate
into the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid, which in turn caused the extinction
of corals and virtually all shell-building species.
"Two million years went by before corals reappeared in the fossil record," he
says, adding that it took "a further 20 million years" before the diversity of
species that use calcium returned to its former levels.
Scientists add that, as the seas become more acidic, they will be less able to
absorb carbon dioxide, causing more of it to stay in the atmosphere to speed up
global warming. Research is already uncovering some signs that the oceans'
ability to mop up the gas is diminishing. Environmentalists point out that the
increasing acidification of the oceans would in itself provide ample reason to
curb emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and felling forests
even if the dwindling band of sceptics were right and the gas was not warming up
But yesterday's cautiously worded report, which was agreed by the US government,
also provides ample evidence that climate change is well under way, and is
accelerating. It concludes that the warming is now "unequivocal" and "evident
from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures,
widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level".
It adds: "Eleven of the last 12 years rank among the 12 warmest years in the
instrumental record of global surface temperature". It goes on: "Observational
evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are
being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases."
If humanity were not affecting the climate, it concludes, declines in the sun's
activity and increased eruptions from volcanoes which throw huge amounts of
dust in the air that screen out sunlight would have been likely to "have
produced cooling" of the planet.
But emissions of all the "greenhouse gas" pollutants that cause global warming
increased 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004 alone, it reports, adding that
levels of carbon dioxide, the most important one, in the atmosphere now "exceed
by far" anything that the Earth has experienced in the past 650,000 years. And
it goes on to conclude that "continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above
current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global
climate system during the 21st century."
It makes a host of specific predictions for every continent (for examples, see
graphic) and warns that "impacts" could be "abrupt" or "irreversible". One
example of an irreversible impact is an expected extinction of between 20 and 30
per cent of all the world's species of animals and plants even at relatively
moderate levels of warming. If the climate heats further, it adds, extinctions
could rise to 40 to 70 per cent of species.
The IPCC scientists and governments say that they are also more concerned about
"increases in droughts, heatwaves and floods" as the climate warms. They believe
that the damage to the world's economy would be even greater than they had
previously predicted, and were even more certain that the poor and elderly in
both rich and poor countries would suffer most.
Yet the report also concludes that, while some climate change is now inevitable,
its worst effects could be avoided with straightforward measures at little cost
if only governments would take action. It says that the job can be done by using
"technologies that are either currently available or expected to be
commercialised in coming decades". It could be done at a cost of slowing global
growth by only a tenth of a percentage point a year, and might even increase it.
The missing element, virtually everyone agrees, is political will from
governments. Next month they meet in Bali to start negotiations on a new treaty
to replace the current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which run out in 2012.
The timetable is desperately tight; time lags in the process of getting a new
treaty ratified by the world's governments means that it will have to be agreed
by the end of 2009 and there is no sign of anything on the horizon.
Yet the treaty will have to go far beyond the protocol in order to put the whole
world on track rapidly to reduce emissions if the world is to achieve the
pollution cuts that the scientists say will be needed to avoid catastrophe. And
it will have to ensure rapid action. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC's chairman,
yesterday repeated a consensus among experts that the world as a whole will have
to start radical reductions within eight years if there is to be any hope of
preventing dangerous climate change.
Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace International said: "It is clear from this
report that we are gambling with the future of the planet and the stakes are
high. This document sets out a compelling case for early action on climate
The UN Secretary-General, agreed. The effects of climate change have become "so
severe and so sweeping" he said "that only urgent, global action will do. There
is no time to waste."
Mr Steiner called the report "the most essential reading for every person on the
planet who cares about the future". He added: "The hard science has been
distilled along with evidence of the social and economic consequences of global
warming, but also the economic rationale and opportunities for action now. While
the science will continue to evolve and be refined, we now have the compelling
blueprint for action and, in many ways, the price tag for failure from
increasing acidification of the oceans to the likely extinction of economically
And Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on
Climate Change the parent treaty to the Kyoto Protocol told the IoS that
reaching agreement was "incredibly urgent".
He pointed out that the world would replace 40 per cent of its power generation
capacity in the next five to 10 years and that China is already building one or
two coal- fired power stations a week. Those installations would last for
decades and the nations that built them would be reluctant to demolish them
any earlier so that unless the world rapidly changed direction it would be all
the more difficult to avoid climate change running out of control.
Sticking poin: It is crucial to get the US and China on board
Getting agreement on a new treaty to tackle climate change hangs on resolving an
"after you, Claude" impasse between the United States and China, the two biggest
emitters of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.
China insists with other key developing countries like India and South Africa
that the United States must move first to clean up. It points out that,
because of the disparity in populations, every American is responsible for
emitting much more of the gas than each Chinese. But the US refuses to join any
new treaty unless China also accepts restrictions.
There is hope of breaking the logjam. Chinese leaders know their country would
be severely affected by global warming, and have done more than is generally
realised to tackle it, not least by rapidly expanding renewable energy. The US
will have a new leader by the time negotiations are completed, and even
President Bush is backtracking, at least rhetorically.
Yesterday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he was optimistic. "I look
forward," he said, with a hint of steel, "to seeing the United States and China
playing a more constructive role in the coming negotiations."
Greenland ice sheet will virtually completely disappear, raising sea levels by
over 30 feet, submerging coastal cities, entire island nations and vast areas of
low-lying countries like Bangladesh
The Amazon rainforest will become dry savannah as rising temperatures and
falling water levels kill the trees, stoke forest fires and kill off wildlife
California and the grain-producing Midwest will dry out as snows in the Rockies
decrease, depriving these areas of summer water
The Great Barrier Reef will die. Species loss will occur by 2020 as corals fail
to adapt to warmer waters. On land, drought will reduce harvests
Winter sports suffer as less snow falls in the Alps and other mountains; up to
three-fifths of wildlife dies out. Drought in Mediterranean area hits tourism
Harvests could be cut by up to half in some countries by 2020, greatly
increasing the threat of famine. Between 75 million and 250 million people are
expected to be short of water within the next 30 years
A world dying, but can
we unite to save it?,
- broken link
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