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Nations agree to look at planes, ships in climate deal

by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) April 4, 2008
More than 160 nations agreed Friday to consider how to reduce rapidly growing emissions from air and sea travel as they worked toward drafting an ambitious new treaty on global warming.

The five-day conference in Bangkok also reached a late-night compromise on a plan for future talks after a feud with poor nations over a Japanese proposal on setting industry standards, according to a draft seen by AFP.

Rich and poor countries are sharply divided on how to tackle global warming, despite growing fears that rising temperatures could put millions of people at risk by the end of the century.

The conference was tasked with setting the first step to complete a pact by the end of next year to follow the landmark Kyoto Protocol, which requires rich nations to slash gas emissions blamed for warming.

"Everyone had to give up some of their positions to reach this compromise," said Harald Dovland, the chairman of the meeting. I am confident we will be able to bring this work forward."

A statement approved here by countries in the Kyoto treaty said they would look at how to "limit or reduce emissions" in aviation and shipping.

The air and marine transport industries account for about three percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But the Kyoto treaty did not cover the two sectors, which are by nature hard to classify under individual nations.

Delegates and environmentalists said there was an effort to water down the text by countries that are transport hubs, such as Singapore, or remotely located, such as Australia.

The statement also gave a vote of confidence to carbon trading, in which rich countries and companies trade credits for slashing carbon output, raising the chances that such a system will be included in a post-Kyoto deal.

But the conference had been split over a Japanese proposal to hold talks soon on the so-called "sectoral approach," in which each industry is judged separately on eco-friendliness.

Developing nations fear the sectoral approach makes Kyoto easier to meet for rich countries, which already have cleaner technology, and that it could be a backdoor way to legally require them for the first time to cut emissions.

They are worried such a move would mean they had to make costly improvements to match standards elsewhere.

"Whatever attention is given to the sectoral approach can only be one part of reduction measures" by developed nations, said Li Liyan, a senior Chinese negotiator.

Japan, which is far behind in meeting its Kyoto obligations as its economy recovers from a recession, wanted talks on the sectoral approach to come before it hosts a Group of Eight summit of rich nations in July.

Daniel Mittler, climate and energy adviser for Greenpeace International, said that the Japanese proposal had been "the main stumbling block."

"This meeting should be about saving the planet, not the G8 summit," Mittler said.

In a compromise, a late-session draft text says that the Japanese sectoral approach will be discussed among issues dear to developing countries including deforestation.

The draft text also includes discussions of how to bring the United States into the process of cutting emissions.

The United States has shunned the Kyoto Protocol, saying it is unfair by imposing no requirements on fast-growing emitters such as China and India.

But the United States and developing nations all committed at a major conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, to be part of negotiations for another deal that covers the period after 2012 when Kyoto's obligations end.

The Bangkok talks are officially tasked with simply setting a work plan to meet the Bali goals. A draft text sets three meetings next year until a final deal is reached in late 2009 in Copenhagen.

Nearly all delegates agree that the toughest issue -- how much to slash gas emissions after 2012 -- will have to wait until after the United States has a new president in January. All three major candidates seeking to succeed Bush have pledged tougher action on global warming.

One veteran watcher said the Bangkok meeting was about nations staking their positions.

"They're setting the table for a meal and they haven't really digged in," said Alden Meyer, strategy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"That means there's no food fight, but that will come down the road when it gets serious."

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