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  Yahoo News 28 Apr 07
Climate change talks grow in importance
By Charles J. Hanley, AP Special Correspondent

Yahoo News 28 Apr 07
Climate report to warn time running out in greenhouse gas battle
by Marlowe Hood

Time is running out to cut the greenhouse-gas emissions that drive climate change, but much can be done at a modest cost to attack the looming crisis, according to experts gathering for new talks.

Fierce debate is expected however at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting which starts in Bangkok on Monday to hammer out a new all important summary for governments.

A draft of the report to be agreed by experts on the United Nation's main authority on climate change says there is scant time to waste.

"Mitigation efforts over the next two to three decades will determine to a large extent the long-term global mean temperature increase and the corresponding climate change impacts that can be avoided," says the draft which has been seen by AFP.

Using a smart mix of policies and technologies, the cost of stabilising carbon pollution at nearly 75 percent above today's levels would be just 0.2 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.

That price would rise to 0.6 percent of global GDP if the world stabilised carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at a level roughly 50 percent higher than today, they calculate.

The sticking points expected at the debat include emissions caps, taxes on CO2 emissions and references to the Kyoto Protocol -- an approach that is anathema to President George W. Bush.

There could also be squabbles over nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels and over carbon storage, a nascent technology for storing greenhouse gases deep underground.

The report to be released on Friday is the last in a massive three-volume update of knowledge on climate change, based on the work of some 2,500 scientists.

But those close to the meeting fear the final document could be watered down by political pressure.

"The economists are too sharply divided," said one expert from an international agency, predicting the European Union (EU) would lock horns with the United States and China over a range of issues.

The EU has set a goal of reducing its CO2 output by 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, while the United States and China, the world's biggest carbon polluters, fear the cost to their economies of such ambitious goals.

The IPCC report identifies policies, technologies and measures that would slow or eventually stop global warming.

Among the options are more efficient use of fossil fuels in construction, industry and transport; economic or fiscal mechanisms to spur renewable energies such as wind, solar and geothermal; and incentives for forestry and farming, which together account for more than 30 percent of total greenhouse gases.

Large reductions in CO2 emissions could also be achieved through creating tougher standards for buildings, motor vehicles and all electricity-consuming appliances, the report says.

Essential for all measures, however, is setting a "carbon price," in other words, handing on pollution costs to producers and consumers. That would be a powerful carrot for energy efficiency and low-carbon technology.

To give an example, carbon prices of 20-50 dollars per tonne of CO2 equivalent, if sustained or increased over decades, could "decarbonise" the energy industry, says the report. The higher the price, the greater the potential for reducing emissions, it adds.

If CO2 is priced at 20 dollars per tonne, emissions of between nine and 18 billion tonnes per year could be removed; at 100 dollars per tonne, the carbon cleanup jumps to 16-30 billion tonnes.

But what is best for the environment can conflict with a healthy economy, for oil, gas and coal are likely to remain the mainspring of the world's energy supply for several decades, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Economists argue that too high and fast a rise in the carbon price would send fossil-fuel dependent economies into a tailspin.

The first volume of the IPCC report, issued in February, predicted that average world temperatures would rise by between 1.8 to 4.0 C (3.2 to 7.2 F) within a wider range of 1.1-6.4 C (2.0-11.5 F). The second, released on April 6, warned of severe consequences, including drought, flooding, violent storms, as well as increased hunger and disease.

Yahoo News 28 Apr 07
Climate change talks grow in importance
By Charles J. Hanley, AP Special Correspondent

As the world warms and scientists' warnings grow urgent, climate negotiators are counting down toward make-or-break talks later this year, hoping for progress on a long-term deal to sharply reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Experts are beginning to fear, however, that as time runs down the best that can be hoped for may be an extension of the relatively weak Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012.

The alternative is a world without any carbon-reduction rules at all.

The year's bad news on climate change is coming in installments. In February, a U.N.-sponsored scientific network reported that unabated global warming would produce a far different planet by 2100, from rising seas, drought and other factors. In early April, the scientists said animal and plant life was already being disrupted.

In the third installment, coming Friday in Bangkok, Thailand, the authoritative panel is expected to say the world could still head off severe damage if all countries act urgently, with the best policies and technology, to rein in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions an improbable scenario.

There are signs of movement. In March, the European Union formally committed to at least a 20-percent cut in emissions, below 1990 levels, by 2020. The Democrats newly in control of Congress are pushing for mandatory caps on U.S. emissions. China is talking more seriously about controls.

"There's a lot happening. Whether that translates into a change in negotiating positions is a complicated story," said Leon Charles, a veteran negotiator for the Caribbean nation of Grenada who will have a lead role in the upcoming talks.

The key complication is a "you first" standoff between the United States, on one side, and China and the developing world on the other. President Bush, who is expected to veto any Democratic effort to reduce carbon emissions, rejects the Kyoto Protocol and its mandatory cutbacks, complaining they would hobble the U.S. economy and should have applied to China, India and other industrializing countries that were exempted because they're poorer.

China, meanwhile, isn't expected to submit to an international regime unless the U.S. takes on a major commitment. It points to the fact that its per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide, byproduct of power plants, automobiles and other fossil fuel-burning sources, has stood at less than one-sixth the American per-person emissions. "Prematurely" committing to mandatory cutbacks could keep China from climbing out of its poverty, the Beijing government said in a climate report April 23.

The Kyoto pact, a 1997 annex to a 1992 U.N. climate treaty, requires 35 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by, on average, 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

But specialists say 50-percent reductions will be needed to stabilize concentrations of the global-warming gases in the atmosphere.

The annual U.N. climate conferences this year's is in December in Bali, Indonesia have made no real progress toward turning such deeper cuts into treaty obligations once Kyoto expires.

In a discussion forum that's a sidebar to the conference, government delegates have been talking about narrower, innovative ways for fast-developing countries like China to contribute without committing to blanket, quantified reductions.

"They could commit to a certain share of renewables," that is, a higher proportion of wind, solar or other non-carbon power sources in their energy mix, said Hermann E. Ott of Germany's Wuppertal Institute, which has conducted in-depth studies of post-Kyoto paths.

"You could also think of efficiency standards for electrical appliances," Ott said, "or measures for certain sectors for the steel industry, for example."

That non-negotiating forum ends this year. If, as expected, no mandate emerges in Bali to negotiate binding post-Kyoto targets, the U.N. process risks running out of time, given that it will take years to produce a new agreement and win ratification worldwide.

That would open a post-2012 gap a world without carbon-reduction rules that could wreck the emerging, Europe-centered market in trading carbon allowances among industries. The allowances would become unnecessary and worthless.

Elliott Diringer, international strategist at Washington's private Pew Center on Climate Change, said at Bali "it may be time to think about bridging strategies," that is, extending Kyoto's limited quotas past 2012 while working on deeper cuts.

Ott agreed a "bridge" looks ever more likely. He doesn't want to sound pessimistic, he said, but "it is important to stress that time is of the essence."

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