- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

BANGKOK | Two weeks of crucial U.N. climate talks concluded Friday after exposing huge rifts between rich and poor nations, just weeks ahead of the deadline for sealing a global deal.

Only five negotiating days remain, in November, before 192 nations converge for a critical December showdown in Copenhagen, where they have pledged to conclude a treaty to tackle global warming.

Without rapid action, many scientists say, the world faces catastrophe in the form of drought, flooding, famine and forced migration.

“My feeling is that the ball, immediately, is in the developed country court to make it clearer what they are looking for,” said Malta’s Michael Cutajar, co-chairman of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks.

A few minutes later at a separate news conference, U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing countered: “I think the ball is in the court of all countries.”

He highlighted a key demand from rich countries that emerging giants such as China, India and Brazil commit to binding actions on climate.

“We are at a critical stage, with major issues unresolved,” said Martin Khor, executive director of the South Center, a Geneva-based think tank aligned with developing countries.

“If there is no improvement in the divisions, the prospects are certainly not bright for an outcome in Copenhagen that is ambitious environmentally, and equitable from a social point of view,” he said.

The key stumbling blocks are how to share the job of slashing the heat-trapping greenhouse gases and how much money wealthy nations will give to help developing ones fight climate change and cope with its consequences.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t have ambitious [emissions] targets from rich nations, and if you don’t have significant finance on the table, the whole thing falls apart,” said Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official.

But even as Bangkok inched from procedure to substance, negotiators on both sides of the issues agreed that the experts’ dialogue would remain blocked without strong input from world leaders between now and December.

“This is not the only game in town,” said Mr. de Boer, referring to the UNFCCC, of which he is executive secretary.

Mr. de Boer added that he hoped the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama would be “an encouragement for him to bring a strong commitment to Copenhagen.”

The looming question of how the United States will fit into any new agreement has dominated the Bangkok meeting, with Mr. Pershing making clear that Washington will never join the Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto legally obliges 37 industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas output by a total of more than 5 percent before 2012 compared with 1990 levels.

This raises the issue of whether to scrap Kyoto and fold some of its provisions into a new accord, or to expand its provisions while making a separate deal for the United States.

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