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Environment

Rifts remain over global climate deal

UN-led climate talks in Bonn have ended with little visible progress. A compromise is needed soon if a global action plan against climate change is to be signed at the Copenhagen summit in December.

A grey sky fuelled by the smoking chimneys of a German coal-fired power plant in Frimmersdorf, North Rhine-Westphalia.

Reducing carbon emissions is a key issue in ongoing UN-led climate negotiations

Eleven days of UN-led climate talks in the German city of Bonn have ended without making any visible progress toward a global action against climate change. The talks, which included some 2,700 representatives from 180 countries, were the latest in a series of UN-led meetings meant to forge a deal in Copenhagen in December to replace or extend the Kyoto Protocol.

Some participants said the deadlock at the Bonn meeting was reminiscent of the chicken and egg problem. Industrialized and developing countries were loath to make concrete commitments and appeared to be waiting for the other side to make the first move. The main quarrel, which also emerged again at the Bonn meeting, was about carbon emission targets and financing the battle against climate change.

Row over emission targets and funds

"I wouldn't say these talks have been successful. One of the things countries were supposed to agree on was an overall target for developed countries but this was not achieved. So I would say we're coming out of the negotiations with not much more than we went in with," said Stephanie Tunmore, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace International.

Developing countries had hoped the meeting would set a range of emissions reduction targets for the group of industrialized nations as a whole. Developed countries, however, preffered to procrastinate until other talks on technical issues were concluded, for example on how far they could offset their emissions and count the effect of planting trees.

US policy shift signals hope

However, not all was gloom and doom in Bonn. Delegates did give their general backing to some specific technical proposals, such as the formation of a registry to measure and reward climate action in developing countries, and delegates were also heartened by the more constructive approach taken by the United States.

Two activists holding up a large campaign placard outside the White House. They are calling on President Bush to sign the Kyoto protocol

The previous US administration under George W. Bush refused to sign the Kyoto protocol

"It was really refreshing to get this attitude from a US delegation that spent the last eight years stalling and refusing to act. So I think you could definitely say that within the negotiations there has been a subtle change in atmosphere that even if they're not actually doing the work yet, the trust is starting to get rebuilt," said Tunmore.

The United States' commitments are considered key to climate negotiations, however, President Barack Obama's fledgling administration has not made any specific pledges yet. The European Union plans to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

More ambitious carbon reduction targets needed

But the United Nations' climate chief Yvo de Boer indicated during Wednesday's press conference in Bonn that even these targets might not suffice to effectively combat climate change.

The UN head of climate change, Yvo de Boer, at the Bonn conference

The UN's head of climate change Yvo de Boer is calling on industrialized nations to further cut greenhouse gases

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has indicated that if we want to avoid severe impact of climate change we need to be working towards industrialised country emission reductions in the order of minus 25-40 by 2020," de Boer said. "The numbers that have been discussed so far are still a significant distance from that range, so more ambition is needed on behalf of industrialised countries if we are to get a robust response to climate change."

Looking ahead to the Copenhagen summit, de Boer called for more clarity and commitment if a successful global deal on climate change was to be reached.

"Firstly we need clarity on the individual emission reduction targets to be adopted by industrialised countries, secondly we need clarity on what major developing countries will do to limit the growth of their emissions," said de Boer.

Developing countries bear the brunt

The UN climate chief added the Copenhagen summit had to deliver clarity on finance. Developing countries were to receive financial support to allow them to engage on mitigation to limit the growth of their emissions. However, de Boer emphasised that it was just as important that developing countries received financial support in order to adapt to the impact of climate change.

A malnourished farmer walks across a withered rice field in the Indian state of Assam

Developing countries are bearing the brunt of climate change which often results in drought and flooding

Environment and development groups have been urging swifter action for years. Many warn that unabated climate change will cause human suffering far worse than the present financial crisis.

Developing countries are likely to bear the brunt since many are situated in areas where desertification and flooding already constitute signficant problems. The next UN climate gathering is scheduled for June. That meeting marks a deadline to start formal negotiations. De Boer has said that a negotiating text would be on the table by then, enabling a successful conclusion of climate talks at the Copenhagen summit in December.

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