December 8, 2008 / 3:03 PM / in 10 years

Ambitions for 2009 UN climate pact fade in Poznan

By Gerard Wynn and Alister Doyle

POZNAN, Poland, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Recession and the change of U.S. administration make it unlikely the world will meet a 2009 deadline for agreeing a full new pact to fight global warming, delegates at U.N. climate talks say.

A year ago, 190 nations signed up for a two-year push to agree a comprehensive climate treaty at talks in Copenhagen in late 2009. But negotiators and analysts attending preparatory Dec. 1-12 talks in Poznan say that looks out of reach.

The most many now hope for is agreement next year on the principles of a pact, though a few say this is too pessimistic.

"A suitable aspiration and a great achievement (in Copenhagen) would be agreement on the principles for negotiation, not a text," said Robert Stavins, professor of business and government at Harvard University.

Recession means that developed nations' greenhouse gas emissions will fall by about 2 percent next year, making other action less urgent, he said.

The 2009 deadline is meant to ensure that new targets for cutting emissions are in place in good time to allow worldwide ratification before the Kyoto Protocol goals expire in 2012.

Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, insisted that rich nations should agree in 2009 to cuts in emissions until 2020. But he also said any deal should be "ratifiable", leaving much of the fine print for later.

De Boer said suggestions last week by a U.S. think-tank, the Pew Center, that 2009 was too early for President-elect Barack Obama to sign up for formal targets in Copenhagen were "unhelpful and incorrect."

"Countries launched a negotiation in Bali a year ago and agreed to complete it in a year's time in Copenhagen," he told Reuters. "To begin to wobble on that resolve halfway through that process is not helpful."


Obama has promised to cut U.S. emissions, almost 17 percent above 1990 levels in 2007, back to 1990 levels by 2020. That is far more ambitious than President George W. Bush, who foresaw emissions keeping rising until they peaked in 2025.

Obama has "already given a number. He's already said he is willing to reduce to 1990 levels by 2020," de Boer said of Obama's goals for Copenhagen.

Obama could even increase the cuts if he introduced new measures such as investments in cutting greenhouse gases in developing nations, permitted under the Kyoto Protocol.

A 2009 goal would have to include financing to help developing nations do more to slow warming -- which could bring more droughts, floods and rising seas -- and clarify the structure of institutions needed, de Boer said.

All sides say Obama will want to avoid President Bill Clinton's mistakes over the Kyoto Protocol -- the administration agreed in 1997 to cuts of seven percent by 2012 but never submitted it to a hostile Senate for ratification.

"It does not work for us to agree to something internationally and expect our Congress to approve it," said Harlan Watson, chief U.S. negotiator. Some experts say December 2009 will be too early for the U.S. Senate to approve any laws.

But Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, said he believed rich nations would be able to agree new targets in Copenhagen. "I think you will get (rich nation) targets, the basic number, in Copenhagen," he said.

"The worst case is that we don't have agreement until 2011 ... and then maybe extend the existing Kyoto programme to 2013 or 2014," he said. Kyoto obliges 37 nations to cut emissions by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Big developing states such as China and India want to see developed nations taking tough action before they start reining in their own rising emissions.

In Poznan on Monday, 140 major companies including Ebay, Sun Microsystems Inc, BP and Unilever, and major investors called for "decisive action" to fight climate change. -- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on: (Editing by Tim Pearce)

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