US wary of setting 'hard numbers' on greenhouse gas emissions at Bali talks

A A A

The high-level talks have begun. Ministers from some 120 countries were last night grappling with the detail of a road map to save the world from climate change. The UN secretary general flew into Bali yesterday to tell governments that "the eyes of the world are on them".

After a year in which the world has woken up to the threat of global warming, the UN climate talks are expected to deliver a response. But the prospects of a concrete outcome from Bali remain in doubt as negotiators struggle with serious divisions.

The bloc of countries including the UK, the EU and much of the developing world that want to arrest the build-up of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere have coalesced around the demand for a text that would call on industrialised countries to cut their emissions by up to 40 per cent. The opposing camp, led by the US delegation, backed by Canada, and less ardently Japan and Australia, want a two-year timetable for a successor to the Kyoto climate treaty but no mention of "hard numbers". A third and more reactionary bloc including Saudi Arabia want nothing more than talks about talks.

The consequences of failure could not be more stark. A wave of new reports at Bali have foretold of flooding, drought, deforestation and extinctions that await in a world more than 2C warmer than the one in which we live.

In the next 48 hours, something will have to give. Al Gore will address the high-level delegations today. Speaking in Sweden, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner said: "The position of the administration in the US right now appears to be to try to block any progress in Bali. I hope that will change."

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, captured the mood in a comparatively emotional address: "We are a crossroads. One path leads towards a comprehensive climate deal. The other towards betrayal of our planet and of our children. Now we need the political leadership to provide the answer."

What the conference cannot and was never supposed to deliver is an immediate deal. The road map would replace what has been until now an international dialogue, with negotiations that have a specific end date two years from now. The UN's previous attempt to deal with climate change, 10 years ago, resulted in the Kyoto protocol under which the industrialised world committed itself to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels. The important parts of that treaty expire in 2012 and Bali is tasked with launching the process that will deliver a successor to Kyoto.

The road map analogy is intended to convey the need for a strict timetable. Instead it is in danger of conjuring up the hopelessness that has surrounded the Israel-Palestine question.

Hilary Benn, Britain's Environment Secretary, said: "The world is watching and expects us to come up with something. The mood and atmosphere is very strong, there is a desire to get an agreement and nobody who has been in the hall can be in any doubt of that."

The battleground for negotiators is a five-page text, which, if agreed tomorrow, would act as a detailed agenda leading to an international deal at a summit in Copenhagen in two years' time. As of last night, that text included scientists' calls for a 25-40 per cent reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases from industrialised nations by 2020.

The US delegation, led by Harlan Watson, has declared that America does not believe in negotiations which prejudge the outcome by including specific targets from the start. The official delegation has no one higher than an under-secretary of state, but that won't stop them wrecking the talks, said analysts. And Mr Ban appeared yesterday to admit that the US will get its way.

Leaders at Bali are desperate to dispel the impression that the negotiations are just more talks about talks. The bottom line for the leading delegations is an agreement to engage all 190 countries in a binding negotiation with a clear finishing date.

A Greenpeace political analyst said the process was "on the edge right now". "It's clear what the science demands and what the public demands, which is more than procedure," he said.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal