Accra, Ghana — The world has made progress on ways to save tropical forests as part of a planned new UN pact to slow global warming, the UN’s top climate official said at 160-nation talks in Ghana ending on Wednesday.
“We are still on track, the process has speeded up,” Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, said of the Aug. 21-27 negotiations. “There is a growing sense of urgency.”
He said the meeting expressed widening understanding of a need to protect forests and came up with many ideas of how to do it. Burning of forests to clear land emits about 20 percent of greenhouse gases from human activities.
“We cannot come to a meaningful solution on climate change without coming to grips with deforestation,” he said. Plants soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as they grow and release it when burnt down or when they rot.
Governments are trying to find a deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, binding 37 developed nations to curb greenhouse gases until 2012. Neither the United States nor China, the top two greenhouse emitters, have limits under Kyoto.
Accra is the third meeting in a marathon meant to end with a new UN accord by the end of 2009 to slow rising temperatures that the UN Climate Panel says will bring more heatwaves, droughts, rising seas and more powerful storms.
Countries came up with proposals to raise tens of billions of dollars in funds for forest protection — such as a Saudi Arabian call for a levy on the logging industry or a proposal by the Pacific island of Tuvalu to tax air tickets and shipping.
De Boer said a highlight of Accra was agreement that a text on possible new actions to fight global warming would be drawn up before the next meeting in Poznan, Poland, in December.
“We may have something in Poznan pretty close to a negotiating text,” he said.
But many delegates cautioned that a deal was still way off, with deep splits about how far rich and poor nations should share out future burdens of cutting greenhouse gases, mainly emitted by burning fossil fuels.
Brice Lalonde, representing France which holds the rotating European Union presidency, likened the talks to a railway journey. “We have laid the rails,” he told Reuters. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the meeting lacked urgency and accused Japan, Canada, Russia and Australia of doing too little. “In Accra there have been some positives and negatives but progress has not been enough,” said Bill Hare of Greenpeace.
De Boer said the talks made some progress in ironing out disputes over the use of sectoral approaches for industry, for instance the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by making a tonne of cement, steel or aluminium.
Japan favours such sectoral benchmarks but many poorer nations fear it could be a prelude to international trade barriers on inefficient, polluting producers.
“The talks here have made it clear that sectoral approaches are not about imposing targets. Sectoral approaches are something that a government may or may not choose to do on a national level,” de Boer said.
“The meeting has helped to crystallise some ideas, said Angela Anderson of the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.
But she said many delegations were waiting to see who would succeed US President George W. Bush in January 2009. Both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain favour tougher action.