Time running out: Thai PM

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday urged world leaders to cooperate urgently and find a solution to the stalemate in setting greenhouse gas emission targets for nations while Thailand is doing little beyond lip services to reduce its own emissions.

Representatives of governments, at least 20 United Nations agencies and hundreds of non-governmental and civil-society observers, as well as activists, gathered in Bangkok yesterday for climate-change negotiations ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December. By that time, 192 countries hope to agree on the terms for tackling climate change beyond 2010, after the present Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The task facing the Bangkok meeting is thrashing out a draft text for the Copenhagen meeting on the post-Kyoto treaty, but delegates are wrangling over two key issues: cutting carbon emissions and meeting the associated costs.

Delivering a keynote speech to mark the opening of the two-week meeting, which is part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Abhisit said the gathering was able to renew society's collective engagement on the issue of climate change at the very highest levels.

He said the political will and vision expressed by all world leaders in New York would now guide the negotiators and national officials to carry out the tough work on the road to Copenhagen.

"Our children and grandchildren will never forgive us unless [the right] action is taken. Time is running out," the Thai leader warned. "We have only two months before Copenhagen."

However, Thailand with its emissions ranked 22nd among countries with highest outflows of greenhouse gases has done little in the past decade to contribute to prevent anthropogenic global warming. Kingkorn Naraintarakul of Thai Climate Justice Network said while Thailand does not have the compulsory emissions reduction target, it should set its own voluntary target to combat climate change.

"We're indeed running out of time," said the veteran activist. "Thailand can make its industry and power generation sectors greener, but our policy makers continue to make them share the social and environmental responsibility. Instead, the government is making the poor pay for cutting down some rubber trees." 

Other participants feel a new sense of urgency, saying negotiators are racing against a December deadline to devise a global deal.

"Time is not just pressing, it has almost run out," said UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer. "But in two weeks, real progress can be made toward the goals that world leaders have set for the negotiations, to break deadlocks and to cooperate towards concrete progress."

Nations across the globe are at odds over the level of emissions cuts developed countries must take, potentially binding commitments the developing world could undertake and the level of aid from wealthier to poorer nations to help them adapt to global warming and develop clean-energy sources.

Delegates in Bangkok will try to shorten a negotiating text that is almost 200 pages long, one de Boer described last month as "afloat in a sea of brackets", with each pair representing an area of disagreement.

"We have a text before us that is excessive and unmanageable," Anders Turesson, Sweden's chief climate negotiator and who was speaking on behalf of the 27-nation European Union, told reporters.

"We need to use the time here in Bangkok to considerably condense this text."

After the Bangkok talks, which last until October 9, countries will have another week in Barcelona, Spain |in November before the December summit in Copenhagen to draw up an accord to extend or replace the 1997 Kyoto treaty.

Jonathan Pershing, lead negotiator for the US, called the task "difficult" and said delegates needed to "move away from large, framing ideas and into concrete recommendations for action".

Pershing said he felt "positive" about China, the biggest emitter, and its pledge to set a domestic target to cut emissions relative to economic output. He welcomed moves by Brazil to lower deforestation and by India to boost solar power.

"We expect them to stand behind those actions the way we stand behind ours and reflect them in this international agreement," he said. "We're looking at a process in which we can take national commitments and have those enforced and at the international level."

India and China have balked at translating national policies into internationally binding commitments, saying it was up to developed nations, historically the biggest polluters, to lead the way. Emission-reduction pledges by wealthy nations now fall short of the 25-40-per-cent cut needed from 1990 levels by 2020, de Boer said.