Climate change: Conferees aim for pact in 2009
Building on Bali plan, attendees work on guide for future negotiations
Representatives from the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases worked into the evening yesterday in what were described as intensive and constructive talks aimed at reaching a consensus on how major economies intend to deal with the causes and effects of global warming.
Though no formal accord was reached, delegates stated their agreement to continue working on a policy that could be ready for ratification by 2009.
"Although on some issues we do not yet see eye to eye, I think we leave here with much improved understanding not only of each other's national positions, but also of underlying concerns, interests and aspirations," said Shaun Vorster, special adviser to South Africa's Ministry of Environment.
Vorster was among more than 150 delegates from 16 countries, the United Nations and the European Union attending the "Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change" summit convened by the White House in Honolulu.
Delegates gathered to discuss climate change and further development of an international agreement reached last year to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
The agreement, known as the "Bali Road Map," was struck in December at a U.N.-sponsored climate change summit in Indonesia attended by nearly 200 countries. It is considered a guide for negotiations over the next two years as world nations craft a policy to replace the landmark Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
No formal policy statement was expected from the Hawaii talks, but officials said they hoped to build on the discussions in Bali. The White House views the Major Economies Meeting as a type of subcommittee of the U.N. process working to reach agreement among the countries that emit 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
"In the Bali Road Map, we committed to a vision of deep cuts in emissions, and now we are trying to sort through how we can come up with a common expression of that," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Kyoto, adopted in 1997, required industrial nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
The United Nations is hopeful to have an agreement among countries ready to be ratified by the time it convenes a climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.
The U.N. effort has focused on nations taking actions such as responsible management of forests, cooperating with technology and business sectors to develop environmentally sound products and cooperation to reduce emissions or capture carbon, among others.
Hang-ups have centered on targets for emission reductions and whether any agreed-upon actions should be voluntary or mandatory.
The United States has faced some international criticism for not signing the Kyoto agreement and not taking a greater role in efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change.
Connaughton and other U.S. officials have countered the criticisms, noting that the Energy Independence and Security Act signed by Bush last month contains strict emissions standards and goals for increasing development of renewable fuels. The White House also notes U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions declined 1.5 percent in 2006.
At Bali last month, members of the European Union threatened to boycott the Honolulu talks if the U.S. did not agree to a goal of cutting carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The final agreement deleted those target numbers as a concession to the U.S.