Nations Plot Modest Climate Goals at Bali Talks

Representatives of the world's nations have gathered in Bali, Indonesia, to plan how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the Kyoto agreement expires.

More than 10,000 people have gathered for the United Nations climate talks, and that number will swell even more in the next few days, as senior government officials arrive to see if they can seal a deal.

The Kyoto climate talks started 10 years ago this week. Kyoto's ambitious emissions-reduction targets are supposed to be reached in a five-year span — from 2008 to 2012 — and the big question looming is what will happen after 2012? That's where Bali comes in. The hope is that the meeting will jump-start rather lethargic climate negotiations.

The talks are a major focal point because climate change has become such a big issue, and there's growing optimism that the conference will be able to reach its very modest goals.

In Bali, Climate Future Is Under Negotiation

A globe stands outside  the venue of the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2007 in Nusa Dua, on Bali

hide captionA globe stands outside the venue of the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2007 in Nusa Dua, on Bali island.

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Putting Four Legs on the Climate Table

Much of the agenda in Bali will be focused on four issues that experts say any future agreement will have to address:

  

Mitigation: Creating a menu of specific actions that nations can take to slow or cut emissions of greenhouse gases (such as trapping carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants or switching to alternative energy sources).

  

Adaptation: Helping nations adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as water shortages or shoreline flooding. Scientists say the world will undergo the effects of some warming, no matter what happens in Bali.

  

Technology: Figuring out ways to spur the innovation of new technologies — from solar power to drought-tolerant plants — that could help countries mitigate or adapt.

  

Money: Crafting new markets and financial tools that create incentives for rich countries to cut emissions, while helping poor nations grow their economies without greatly adding to emissions. One popular idea is a "cap and trade" system that would allow companies and countries to buy and sell pollution credits. Another is to pay developing nations to protect large swaths of forest which suck up and store vast amounts of carbon. — David Malakoff

More than 180 nations are meeting in Bali, Indonesia this week to discuss a future global pact on fighting climate change. The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol on climate expires in 2012, and the United Nations is asking representatives meeting in Bali to think about what's next. Here, a look at some of the major issues:

How do you get the big greenhouse emitters to play?

Perhaps the biggest issue on the table is how to get the world's biggest greenhouse gas producers — including the United States, China and India — to agree to participate in a future agreement. The U.S. backed out of the 1997 Kyoto accord, which set specific emissions targets, after the Bush administration decided it would be too expensive and not very effective. China and India were not included because they were developing economies, and argued that developed nations should take the lead.

Experts agree that all of these big players must agree to take significant action to cut future emissions of warming gases, such as carbon dioxide, if any agreement is to be effective. But many nations are skeptical of Kyoto-style mandatory cuts and want more flexible voluntary approaches. The focus in Bali will be coming up with a menu of incentives and strategies acceptable to all the players.

How warm is too warm?

Nations will ultimately have to agree on how much warming we are willing to accept. Scientists say the world is already committed to nearly three degrees Fahrenheit of warming. Many European governments argue that the ultimate limit should be 3.5 degrees — anything above that would have dangerous consequences. To stay within that limit, researchers say the world has just a decade or two to take major steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

What's the timetable?

With the end of the first phase of the Kyoto accord just four years away, some nations are pushing to have a clear framework for a new agreement in place by 2009. But that timetable could be delayed by a wide range of factors, from the results of the November 2008 presidential elections in the United States, to political shifts in China and Europe.

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