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Next week, thousands of people will arrive on the island of Bali in Indonesia to talk about climate change. They're trying to come up with a long-term plan to slow the warming of the Earth's climate. Expectations for action are not high. This conference is meant to set an agenda for further talks. But some recent studies do lend a sense of urgency, showing that the atmosphere and oceans are warming at an alarming rate. In a moment, we'll hear from a member of the U.S. delegation to Bali.
First, this report from NPR's Christopher Joyce.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Most of the world's nations agreed in 1992 to do something about global warming. Then in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, they set hard limits on greenhouse gases coming from industrialized countries and they have to meet their targets by 2012.
Here's the rub: Even if everyone makes their targets - and that's already in doubt - it will only make a small dent in global warming. Scientists say the world needs huge new cuts in greenhouse gases.
So, the big question in Bali is: How will the world really tightened its carbon belt after 2012 when Kyoto expires?
Mr. YVO DE BOER (Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change): Well, the short answer to that is it's completely meaningless to embark on those 2012 climate policy design process without the U.S. at the table.
JOYCE: That's Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The U.S. emits more carbon than anyone else and the U.S. is not part of the Kyoto regime. The Clinton White House helped write the Kyoto deal. The Bush administration then rejected it saying it would damage the American economy. So when delegates in Bali sat down to talk about bringing the U.S. into some sort of Kyoto 2 deal, they have a dilemma, says Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Mr. ALDEN MEYER (Director of Strategy and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists): Well, the dilemma is that many of the key parties like Japan, some in the European Union, don't want to make a final decision on what comes next until the U.S. has reengaged in the process. And they understand that that's not likely to happen until the next president comes in.
JOYCE: Now, Yvo de Boer at the U.N. suggests that may not be fatal to a new climate deal.
Mr. DE BOER: You know, in Washington, the climate change train has left the station and whatever administration wins the election.
JOYCE: De Boer notes that the Congress already is debating several bills to get the U.S. into the carbon limits game. But even if the U.S. signs on, it won't be enough to turn the climate tide.
Economist Ray Kopp of the think tank Resources for the Future says there are other big greenhouse gas polluters that may not want to be part of what comes next.
Dr. RAY KOPP (Senior Fellow, Resources for the Future): If you do not have China and India onboard undertaking real reductions on their own dime, then the developed world will never be able to pick up the slack. It doesn't say that China has got to come online tomorrow, okay, but you go about 10 years and all the smart people in the world, I think, are trying to figure out how the heck are we going to bring these folks, you know, into this global regime.
JOYCE: China will soon surpass the U.S. as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Indonesia is already the world's third largest emitter, mostly from the trees it cuts down that decompose and send carbon into the atmosphere.
So any post-Kyoto climate plan will fail unless the big emitters sign on. But, says Annie Petsonk, a climate expert with Environmental Defense in Washington, nobody wants to go first.
Ms. ANNIE PETSONK (International Counsel, Environmental Defense): What we've seen for the past 10 years has been a giant game of chicken between the United States and the developing world. It's all too easy for other nations to hide behind America and say, well, if you all aren't doing it, why should we?
JOYCE: Petsonk things one possible way out of the stalemate may lie with Indonesia. The government and provincial leaders now say they won't slow the rate at which they're cutting down forests which contributes to global warming. That would put them inside the big climate tent. The question is how many others will follow.
Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
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