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UN climate change conference opens in Bali with call for breakthrough

UN climate change conference opens in Bali with call for breakthrough

The United Nations Climate Change Conference opened in Bali, Indonesia, today with a call for a clear agenda that will lead countries toward a new deal to address the problem by 2009 so that it can enter into force in 2013 when the current regime expires.

At the same time, Conference leaders cautioned that while Bali should launch the negotiations, it would not deliver a fully-negotiated deal.

“While the launch of negotiations and a clear deadline of 2009 to end the negotiations would constitute a breakthrough, anything short of that would constitute a failure,” said Indonesian Environment Minister and President of the Conference Rachmat Witoelar.

“It is critical that we act and we act now,” he said. “It is imperative to start the process in Bali. We need to send a strong statement to the international community that we at the Bali negotiations can act with the requisite sense of urgency and import.”

The Conference is expected to launch negotiations that would likely take two years to conclude. But while Bali is expected to frame the negotiations that will lead to an agreement, many of the most contentious issues are likely to be considered much later in the negotiating process.

To help shape the negotiations in the future, the Conference established a special contact group, chaired by South Africa and Australia.

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said public expectations for Bali to provide answers are high. “The eyes of the world,” he told negotiators, “are now upon you. There is a huge responsibility for Bali to deliver.”

Still, few expect that reaching agreement in Bali and on a future agreement will be easy. “Shaping the future may seem like the impossible task of squaring a circle of conflicting interests,” Mr. de Boer said.

He called for continued leadership by industrialized countries, saying bold action by them can boost growth in the South.

And while fossil fuels will continue to be the main drivers of growth, Mr. de Boer said developing countries could avoid the same mistakes as developed countries through greater cooperation, technology and incentives.

He also appealed for collective efforts to create a comprehensive framework that allows all countries to adapt, particularly those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change

Kenyan Environment Minister David Mwiraria stressed the need to take real action on adaptation. Urging countries to conclude agreement on the remaining issues that need to be resolved that would allow the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund to begin operating, he also said work had been slow on efforts to bring more Clean Development Mechanism projects to Africa.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) called for delegates at the Conference to agree on policies promoting climate change adaptation and minimizing disaster risk.

“Governments agreed to take action on mitigation and adaptation in the UNFCCC, but to date, the negotiations on climate change have focused on mitigation,” said Sálvano Briceño, Director of the ISDR secretariat. “Adaptation needs to be a main priority for reducing the vulnerability of societies to inevitable climate change impacts.”

He pointed out that 90 per cent of disasters were weather-related, and that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted more intense and frequent hurricanes and floods.

“We cannot wait,” he added. “We already have the tools to reduce the impact of climate-related hazards and we need to use them now.”

In a related development, a new book aimed at teaching the private sector, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) how to curb their carbon emissions was launched today in Bali.

A joint UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Sustainable Development International project, the 300-page publication features articles by such figures as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri and Jeffrey Sachs.

Emphasizing practical steps that can be taken to reduce carbon footprints, the book and its accompanying website – which are part of Climate Action, a UNEP initiative – focus on key issues such as market mechanisms, energy, transportation, telecommunications and buildings.