Poor nations demand assistance in fighting climate change

By Michael Casey

BALI, Indonesia- Developing nations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference demanded rapid transfers of technology Wednesday to help them combat global warming, while a report warned that some of Asia’s biggest cities could be threatened by rising sea levels.

Poor and emerging economies argue they need more scientific know-how to reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency, but the wealthy nations want to focus on booming countries like China to set goals for cutting pollution emissions, delegates and activists said.

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“How on earth can you talk about targets if you don’t want to engage on the scope, the depth and need of technology?” said Meena Raman, chairman of Friends of the Earth International. “In the last two days, the sincerity and urgency that is needed and goodwill … is not happening.”

The conference is meant to start a two-year negotiating process aimed at producing a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. That pact commits 36 industrial nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by the time it expires.

Failure to reach a new international consensus on curbing emissions, experts warn, will raise the threat of catastrophic droughts and floods, increased heat waves and disease, and sea level rises caused by melting polar ice.

With the growth in Asian “mega-cities,” coastal flooding could affect 150 million people by 2070, up from 40 million today, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned in a study released Tuesday. Flooding damage would cost the world $35 trillion, compared to $3 trillion today, it said.

Calcutta, India, heads the OECD’s list of cities at risk in 2070 in terms of population exposure, followed by another Indian metropolis, Mumbai. All of the top 10 are in developing Asian nations except Miami, ninth place on the list and the only city in an industrial country.

Also in the top 10 are Dhaka, Bangladesh; Guangzhou and Shanghai, China; Ho Chi Minh City and Haiphong, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and Yangon, Myanmar.

The study highlighted the special needs of developing countries to obtain the means to safeguard their populations.

Delegates and activists led by the Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, said barriers such as intellectual property rights and a lack of a sense of urgency among rich countries are slowing the transfer of needed technology.

Wealthy nations like the United States argue that they are eager to move energy-saving technology to developing nations.

Yvo de Boer, the U.N. climate chief, said most of the technology is in the private sector and the top challenge is to create market incentives for such companies to sell their technology to the developing world.

“There are ways to draw resources into the market,” he said.

While the two-week conference is in its early days, differences were already emerging, mostly over what should go into the “Bali roadmap,” which will lay out the subjects for discussions in the years to come.

Japan, for example, offered a proposal that doesn’t include mandatory emissions cuts, while the European Union has come out with a detailed wish list that includes demands for industrialized countries to take the lead in approving mandatory cuts, strengthening the carbon-offset market and boosting funds to help poor countries adapt.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet agreed Wednesday on a new package of measures designed to reduce that country’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 40 percent over the next dozen years.

Merkel, who has made combatting climate change a keystone of her government’s program and of the country’s presidency of the EU and the Group of Eight leading industrial countries this year, has said she wants Germany to be an example for others at the Bali conference.

“We hope that our resolutions also set precedents, and that we can all come together internationally to implement ambitious climate goals,” she said after the Cabinet agreed on 14 laws and regulations designed to help Germany reach its targets.

A call for more dramatic action also emerged from Australia, where newly installed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed papers this week leading to the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol after years of resistance from the previous conservative government.

On Wednesday, he urged the United States, which opposes Kyoto because it doesn’t include major polluters like China and India, to follow his country’s lead.

“Our position vis-a-vis Kyoto is clear cut, and that is that all developed and developing countries need to be part of the global solution,” he told the Southern Cross Broadcasting radio network in Australia. “And therefore we do need to see the United States as a full ratification state.”

The United States says it wants to be part of the negotiations on a follow-up accord to the Kyoto pact, but refuses to endorse the mandatory emission cuts favored by the EU, arguing that the focus should be on funding renewable energy projects and improving energy efficiency.