African Countries Boycott UN Climate Talks

Associated Press + More

ARTHUR MAX,
Associated Press Writer

BARCELONA, Spain—African countries boycotted meetings at U.N. climate talks Tuesday, saying that industrial countries had set carbon-cutting targets too low for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The action forced several technical meetings to be canceled. Delegates to this week's U.N. climate talks in Barcelona warned that, unless the African protest was settled, it could set back the timetable for concluding a new climate change pact at a major U.N. conference next month in Copenhagen.

The 50 or so African countries said they would only discuss pledges submitted by wealthy countries. Africans say they are the most vulnerable to climate change yet the least responsible for the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere that is causing global warming.

A landmark 2007 U.N. report based on the work of about 2,000 scientists predicted Africa would suffer the most from drought, agricultural damage, rising sea levels threatening coastal areas and the spread of tropical pests and diseases.

A new study published Tuesday says the glaciers on Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, have lost 85 percent of the ice they had in 1912, with more than a quarter present in 2000 gone by 2007.

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, cited Earth's rising temperatures as at least a partial cause. It said similar changes have occurred at Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains in Africa, as well as at glaciers in South America and the Himalayas.

Scientists say industrial countries should reduce emissions by 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, but targets announced so far amount to far less than the minimum.

Talks were under way Tuesday to try to resume the closed-door meetings on technical issues related to emissions reductions, including identifying new greenhouse gases to be regulated and setting rules by which rich countries might offset emissions with green technology investments in poor countries.

In London, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted Tuesday that the climate change treaty may not be resolved this year, as nations may be unable to commit to firm emissions limits at Copenhagen.

"Copenhagen will be a very important milestone. At the same time, realistically speaking, we may not be able to agree all the words," Ban said after holding talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Ban said he would push leaders to strike a pact in Copenhagen, but that it was more likely to be an agreement on principles — rather than specific targets for cuts.

"We need at this time the political will — if there is a political will, there is a way we can come to a binding agreement in Copenhagen," Ban said.

The Copenhagen deal would succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which called on 37 industrial countries to reduce emissions of heat-raising gases by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. It made no demands on major developing countries like India and China. The United States was the only major greenhouse gas emitter to reject the Kyoto accord.

On Monday, the U.S. came under renewed pressure to declare its intentions at the U.N. talks before the decisive Copenhagen meeting from Dec. 7-18.

The U.S. says it is waiting for Congress to finish work on climate and energy legislation.

Those bills, unlikely to be completed before the Copenhagen summit, suggest the U.S. would cut emissions only about 4 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade.

This week Republican Party senators threatened to boycott some of the congressional meetings, demanding additional studies on the bill's cost and job impact.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Washington on Tuesday to make the case for a global climate change deal to both chambers of Congress.

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AP Science Writer Randolph E. Schmid contributed to this report from Washington.