Worldwide climate plan underway in Bangkok
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Negotiators from around the world face an uphill battle as they meet in Bangkok on Monday to draft a plan against global warming, with the Kyoto Protocol running out in 2012.
Negotiators from around the world got to work Monday on drafting a battle plan against global warming that a top UN official warned could be the most complicated treaty in history.
The talks come amid a growing consensus between rich and poor countries that the world must take action to halt climate change, which scientists warn could put millions of people at risk by century's end.
"You have gathered to launch a negotiating process that is tasked with changing the course of history," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a videotaped address to the conference's opening in Bangkok.
A total of 164 countries are taking part in the five-day meeting, which is meant to start figuring out which country does what after 2012, when obligations run out under the Kyoto Protocol.
The talks are the first under an agreement reached at a major conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, that called for a new treaty on global warming by the end of 2009.
UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said that negotiators faced a "daunting task" balancing competing interests from each country.
The world has "considerably less than two years to craft what may well in the end be one of the most complex international agreements that history has ever seen," de Boer told reporters.
"Clearly in the process there will be winners and there will be losers. But it is also clear that if we fail to act then we will all be losers in the end," he said.
De Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the Bangkok conference should identify which areas needed work and set up new sessions or studies to ensure a deal by the end of next year.
"I would be quite happy to see it be a very boring meeting with no political conflict and a complete focus on the planning that has to be done," de Boer said.
But while many would agree the details are boring, it may be wishful thinking to expect no friction.
The United States, the main opponent of the Kyoto Protocol, only agreed to the Bali deal after its delegates were booed in the final session.
Japan, which is far behind in its Kyoto obligations to slash emissions by six percent by 2012 from 1990 levels, has proposed moving the base year for future cuts from 1990 to 2005 -- butting heads with the European Union.
Japan's economy is steadily recovering from recession, while in 1990 parts of the European Union were stagnating in the Soviet bloc.
Chief US negotiator Harlan Watson called the Japanese proposal "an interesting idea."
"We're looking into it. There are some people to think that 1990 was advantageous to some parties," Watson told AFP.
US President George W. Bush argues that Kyoto was unfair by only requiring wealthy countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.
Fast-growing developing economies such as China and India argue that they cannot be expected to make the same type of cuts as rich countries. They also want technology from rich countries to help them curb emissions.
"Bali was a successful meeting, but only a beginning to the process," said Yu Qingtai, China's chief negotiator.
"We want this meeting to set a positive tone for the next two years," he said.
The European Union has pledged unilaterally to cut emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990. But the 27-nation bloc has seen internal feuding on how to meet the goal; coal-rich Poland, for example, wants to ensure a future for fossil fuels.
"Every country comes at this now trying to figure out what's in their individual interests as well as the global interests," said Angela Anderson, global warming director at the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.
"There is a lot of housekeeping to do at this meeting to figure out how they are going to proceed," she said.
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