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The decision makers have arrived in Bali for their part in the United Nations climate talks. They're making pleas for rapid and urgent action to tackle global warming. The hero of the day was brand new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who recently signed the Kyoto climate change treaty, bringing Australia into that group.
NPR's Richard Harris reports from Bali.
RICHARD HARRIS: Kevin Rudd told the dignitaries assembled in Bali that when he became Australia's prime minister a little over a week ago, his first official act was to sign the papers committing his nation to the Kyoto Protocol.
Prime Minister KEVIN RUDD (Australia): And just a few moments ago, I handed, personally, that instrument of ratification to the secretary-general of the United Nations.
(Soundbite of applause)
HARRIS: That leaves the United States as the only major industrialized nation that has not agreed to a mission's targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Rudd didn't criticize the United States directly, but he expressed a sentiment that runs deep throughout the climate talks.
Prime Minister RUDD: The world expects us to deliver binding targets. The world expects us to deliver specific commitments. It expects us all to pull together and for us all to do our fair share.
HARRIS: The speeches launching the high-level talks sounded familiar to people who have been following these discussions since climate change was put on the international agenda in Rio back in 1992. But the facts that back up the rhetoric have gotten much stronger in the intervening 15 years.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed to this year's report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change to support his grave concerns for the planet.
Secretary General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): The science is clear. Climate change is happening. The impact is real. The time to act is now.
HARRIS: He called climate change the defining challenge of our age.
Passionate words also flowed from the man responsible for running this particular meeting - the U.N.'s Yvo De Boer. De Boer wondered why military officials around the world are preparing for a world disrupted by climate change, while nations aren't doing more to prevent the disaster. He didn't name the United States in particular, but his final thought did quote a national hero.
Mr. YVO DE BOER (Executive Director, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change): In the words of President Lincoln, you cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. Thank you.
(Soundbite of applause)
HARRIS: The United States has stuck to its position opposing legally binding emissions targets. Negotiators continue to argue that the U.S. is helping the world by pushing the development of technologies that will be necessary to generate energy and power cars without putting so much carbon dioxide into the air.
At one point, a reporter asked a senior U.S. negotiator whether the country felt isolated at the talks, and he said no. And he added, Turkey hasn't ratified the Kyoto Protocol, either.
Paula Dobriansky, who heads the U.S. delegation, also made it clear at a news conference that this issue isn't just about the environment. It's about trade and competitiveness with countries such as China, which is part of the Kyoto treaty, but, as a developing country, isn't required to limit its emissions.
Undersecretary PAULA DOBRIANSKY (U.S. Undersecretary of State): We want the world's largest economies, including the United States, to be part of a global arrangement. An approach in which only some are committed to act cannot be environmentally effective.
HARRIS: Dobriansky said the U.S. delegation supports the goal of this meeting, which is to create a framework for a new international agreement to be finalized in 2009. That agreement may or may not have binding emissions targets for the United States, depending in part on who is in the White House by then.
Richard Harris, NPR News, Bali.
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