President Bush's administration conceded for the first time yesterday that the pollution that causes global warming will have to be cut in half around the globe by the middle of the century if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.
The verbal concession, a dramatic U-turn, came amid unprecedented pressure on the United States in the closing session of the top-level climate conference in Bali. In scenes never before witnessed in international diplomacy, the US was booed and hissed by the representatives of nearly 190 nations for trying to obstruct agreement.
Dr Paula Dobriansky, the leader of its delegation, made the concession in a speech from the floor, the first time that the Bush administration has ever committed itself to a shared global goal in combating climate change.
The move was all the more surprising because the US had spent the previous two weeks at the conference successfully blocking attempts to include the target, or any other numerical goals, in the final agreements. Last summer President Bush also resisted intense pressure to endorse it from other world leaders, including Tony Blair, at the Heiligendamm G8 summit in Germany, so that the leaders only bound themselves to "seriously consider" the goal.
Dr Dobriansky who, as US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs is a senior member of the administration told the final session: "I think we have come a long way here. This is a new era in climate diplomacy."
Her statement, which was greeted with rousing applause, marked the end of two exhaustive and exhausting weeks of bargaining, topped off with a sleepless night for negotiators and a morning of high drama yesterday, in which a hardened UN chief broke down and wept at the podium, and its Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, unexpectedly flew in to plead emotionally with the delegates to consider the fate of their children.
In the end, all the world's nations apart from Burma agreed to sign up to a deal which sets out a roadmap for two years of negotiation, culminating in a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December 2009, a year after the next US presidential elections. The UN indicated yesterday that there would be at least four more negotiating sessions next year alone.
No firm targets or commitments were even considered; instead the governments were negotiating over which issues would be put on the table. Yesterday's agreement is effectively a timetable and agenda for a new, binding global climate accord. But it is the first time that industrialised and developing countries including the US, China and India have jointly signed up to an undertaking, however vague, to act together to control their emissions.
Developed countries have accepted that "deep cuts" will be needed in their pollution, while developing ones have agreed to undertake "measurable, defined and verifiable mitigation" of theirs.
The rest of the world, led by the EU, had pressed hard for the size of the needed rich country cuts 25 to 40 per cent by 2020 to be included in the text, but the US resisted and they had to be relegated to a footnote. All other developed countries, however, agreed to include the figure in a separate agreement, which excludes the US.
EU sources told The Independent on Sunday that Britain had unilaterally helped the US to get the figure relegated to a footnote after a telephone call from the White House to Downing Street, but Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, denied that the Government had strayed from the united European position.
The roadmap also includes the first steps towards a groundbreaking deal under which developing countries could be compensated by rich ones for deciding not to fell their tropical forests. And it takes the first steps to helping poor countries defend themselves from global warming threats.
It was only achieved after two weeks in which the US constantly swung the wrecking ball, opposing almost every constructive proposal, despite a promise by President Bush that his delegates would not block progress.
Late on Friday night formal negotiations had to be suspended because anger levels had risen so high that civil discourse was no longer possible. But the acrimony resumed at yesterday's dramatic morning session, when one last round of the US against the rest of the world was played out. During one particularly nasty session, the UN's climate chief, Yvo de Boer, a tough and phlegmatic Dutchman, had to be led from the podium in tears.
The final battleground centred on two paragraphs of text: the first outlined what the industrialised world should take on in fighting dangerous climate change; the second outlined what the poorer developing world would do. Having successfully watered down the rich countries' commitments, the US wanted to shift the balance of what needed to be done on to poorer ones. But the rest of the world wasn't having it. Boos and hisses broke out around the hall.
In further dramatic breaches of diplomatic protocol, Pakistan, South Africa, Brazil, Tanzania and most eloquently Papua New Guinea explicitly blamed the US. "There is an old saying," Kevin Conrad, the Papuan ambassador of environment and climate change, told the US. "If you're not going to lead, get out of the way." And the hall erupted in applause.
Hilary Benn said the agreement was the "breakthrough" that the world was looking for. "Our changing climate is changing our politics," he said. "I won't pretend it hasn't been tough or difficult. Nobody has been humiliated and we all leave with our heads held high."
"What we witnessed today was an incredible drama," said Alden Mayer from the Union of Concerned Scientists. "I have been following these talks for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this."
The WWF's Hans Verolme said: "The US administration was asked to get out of the way, and in the end they bowed to pressure. The Bali roadmap leaves a seat at the table for the next US President to make a real contribution to the global fight to stop dangerous climate change."
And, phlegm restored, Mr de Boer gave his own verdict. "Much work has been done," he said. "Much more work remains to do."
Yesterday's agreement does not include several crucial elements that are needed if the world is to get to grips with climate change.
The Bali meeting never aimed to negotiate firm pollution reduction targets. It's too early in the talks and the US would block them anyway.
The EU and developing countries wanted the text to indicate that emissions must come down by 25-40 per cent by 2020. The US said "no".
They then pushed for an indication that it should be cut in half by 2050. The US stopped it going into the text, but verbally agreed.
Aviation and shipping
Emissions from both are excluded from the Kyoto Protocol. Britain wanted them included this time, but failed to get them.
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