Governments face climate test of resolve at Bangkok talks

SINGAPORE/OSLO Sun Apr 3, 2011 11:25am EDT

Steam spew from chimneys at an industrial complex in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo October 23, 2009. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Steam spew from chimneys at an industrial complex in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo October 23, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

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SINGAPORE/OSLO (Reuters) - Governments face a test of their pledges to fight climate change next week when almost 200 nations meet in Bangkok to try to build on a modest deal reached last year that includes a new green fund and rising aid.

The April 3-8 talks are the first since environment ministers agreed a package last December in Mexico that put the U.N. negotiations back on track. Japan's nuclear crisis is likely to overshadow the 2011 sessions about low-carbon energies.

The December deal in the Mexican resort of Cancun included a Green Climate Fund to manage $100 billion a year in aid to poor nations by 2020 and to limit a rise in average world temperatures to below 2 deg C (3.6 F) over pre-industrial times.

"Governments need to maintain momentum at Bangkok by agreeing a clear work-plan for 2011," the U.N.'s climate chief Christiana Figueres said in a statement. The Bangkok talks will have to start working out details.

Cancun, for example, failed to make progress on tougher issues, such as disputes between rich and poor nations on how to extend or replace the existing Kyoto Protocol or strengthen the emission cuts pledged by rich nations.

"One of the key questions is whether the spirit of Cancun that allowed negotiators to make compromises and move forward still exists," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute in Washington.

"The main driver of progress is that for many countries climate action makes economic sense and are starting to put in place real policies," she added.

Shane Tomlinson, of the E3G think-tank in London, also said that Bangkok delegates needed to prove they could turn "aspirations in Cancun into real, working mechanisms." Threats included pressures on aid budgets, such as in the United States and possibly Japan, which faces a mammoth post-quake rebuilding bill.

Countries are also at odds about the shape of a new deal to bind all major polluting nations to stronger steps to curb planet-warming carbon emissions. Weak economic growth means many developed nations have less focus on climate change.

KYOTO ENDS NEXT YEAR

The first phase of Kyoto, which binds nearly 40 rich nations to emissions targets, runs out at the end of next year with no successor in sight.

Analysts fear any backsliding risks the fragile negotiations slipping back into acrimony that nearly wrecked a summit in Copenhagen in 2009 and yielded a non-binding accord.

Cancun built on that accord and won consensus on measures to protect tropical forests, a scheme to promote clean technologies and a framework to help poorer nations adapt to rising seas and greater weather extremes.

The United Nations says industrialized nations led by the United States, the number two emitter behind China, need to set tough emissions goals to stay below 2 deg C. The sum of promises so far is 60 percent of what scientists say is needed.

China and India have targets that will allow emissions to rise, but less quickly than GDP, as well as aggressive targets to ramp up renewable energy investments, joining dozens of other poorer nations that have pledged steps to curb emissions.

Analysts expected progress in Bangkok on agreeing a program of action this year ahead of major November 28 to December 9 talks in the South African city of Durban.

"My sense is they will agree a work plan and that they will move ahead on technical issues that don't get political," said Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, an international NGO that advises governments and firms on cutting emissions.

"And I think there's enough agreement around for countries to move ahead with the technical issues. But when it gets political, when it gets to Kyoto 2 and what the eventual legal agreement might look like, then there are still a lot divisions."

DOUBTS ABOUT JAPAN

Japan, Canada and Russia are firmly opposed to any extension of Kyoto into a second phase from 2013, arguing that a new deal is needed with targets for all major emitters. China, India and other developing nations insist Kyoto remains.

Tomlinson said Japan might declare itself unable to meet its commitments under Kyoto because of the devastating tsunami and earthquake. "That is a significant risk," he said.

The Fukushima nuclear crisis would also overshadow debate about new technology choices, including low-carbon nuclear power versus renewable energies such as wind or solar power.

Kenber pointed to the risk that Japan's ambitious target to cut emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 was also under threat, given the likely rise in gas and coal imports to make up for the energy gap from damaged nuclear power plants.

The beleaguered government has also failed to introduce a climate bill enshrining the target, adding further to doubts.

Many developing countries want far deeper cuts from rich nations. Bolivia, for instance, was alone in opposing the Cancun agreements, saying they were too weak.

Some analysts were gloomy over the chances of quick action. Emmanuel Fages, head of analysis for European energy at Societe Generale in Paris, said it could take years to get world leaders focused on climate change again after Copenhagen.

"To get the same kind of attention as in 2009 it will not be before 2013-14." But he said the problem would not go away: "This is where our management is failing. We are not able to take into account long-term solutions."

(Editing by Ed Lane)