US-EU disagreement might sink agreement on greenhouse gases
In Bali 190 countries are trying to lay down guidelines to reach a new pact two years from now. But the European Union wants binding targets for rich countries now; the United States says no. As the United Nations tries to mediate, the International Red Cross warns that climate change is causing an increase in natural disasters.

Bali (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The European Union and the United States have traded accusations of preventing a deal on greenhouse gases as the United Nations’ deadline for an agreement set for tomorrow approaches. A worried Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is trying his best to mediate between the 190 countries at the Bali conference in order to stop what has been achieved so far from collapsing as a “house of cards.”

For the International Red Cross time is of the essence. In its latest report it warns that global warming has increased the number of natural disaster this year by 20 per cent compared to last year. As of 10 October 2007, it had recorded 410 disasters, 56 per cent of which were weather-related. In the last ten years the number of natural disasters rose by 40 per cent with respect to the previous decade, causing the death of more than 1.2 million people against 600,000 for the previous period.  Altogether some 270 million people have been affected.

The European Union and developing countries want a binding commitment by “rich countries” to cut greenhouse gases by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. But Japan, Canada, Australia and especially the United States reject binding targets for some and not for others, especially high polluting developing countries like China, India and Brazil.

The stalemate has led UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to say that adopting fixed targets now was “too ambitious;” he urged never the less Washington to show “greater flexibility” warning that “our atmosphere can't tell the difference between emissions from an Asian factory, the exhaust from a North American SUV, or deforestation in South America or Africa.”

The conference, which began 3 December, got to the heart of the matter with the arrival of government ministers yesterday. It is supposed to lay down the guidelines with a view to reaching an agreement in two years time on limits on gas emissions per country and a pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol. 

The latter required 36 developed countries (plus the EU as a party in its own right) to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a collective average of 5 per cent to below 1990 levels. But the United States, which signed, declined ratification, asking for more time and a commitment by developing but high-polluting nations to binding targets as well.

Developing countries have countered that the West must assume its historical responsibilities for the problem, claiming that they cannot accept restrictive commitments that might slow down their development.

The new agreement is expected to impose targets for each country starting in 2013. In fact, for the United Nations a global climate pact must be reached by 2009 and ratified by all within 2012. For this reason its guidelines on clean energy investments must be agreed upon as soon as possible.

The conference is scheduled to end tomorrow but like in Kyoto it might go on non-stop until an agreement is hammered out.

During the conference participants agreed to set up a special fund to help poor nations cope with problems related to climate change.

The parties might also clinch a deal on providing financial compensation to poor countries that slow down deforestation. (PB)