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Bali Climate Talks Focus on Steps After Kyoto

Environment ministers from around the world were gearing up for a final week of talks this week in Bali, Indonesia, hoping to find a way forward once the Kyoto climate treaty expires in 2012.

One idea that seemed to be gaining strength is a fund to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries adapt to the change brought on by global warming.

It has been a decade since the start of negotiations in Kyoto, a process that produced a treaty that looked dead on arrival after the United States declined to ratify it. Since then, talks on reducing greenhouse gas emissions have been in a holding pattern. The hope at Bali is to get at least a hint of forward motion.

David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said there are positive signs emerging from the first week of the conference.

"I think they've been making progress, turning what's been called a dialogue into a formal negotiation," he said.

The hope is to close a deal in 2009. But some features of a potential agreement are starting to emerge. One big change from the 1997 treaty is that a new deal might actually help the countries most at risk from climate change.

Saleemul Huq is a climate specialist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. He has been working to help countries like his native Bangladesh get more funding to cope with rising sea levels and stronger typhoons.

"This is not development assistance. This is the polluter paying the victim of pollution," Huq said.

Currently, when a country can't meet its carbon emissions caps, it can make up for that by investing in climate-friendly projects in the developing world. Huq's idea is to take a small percentage from those transactions and put that money into a fund for the poorest and most vulnerable nations. Estimates are that these countries will ultimately need hundreds of billions of dollars, so this funding mechanism would be a modest start.

It would be up to the developing countries to figure out how to spend that money, but Huq said disaster preparedness would be an obvious use.

Hurricane Katrina was a stark reminder that even rich countries are vulnerable. Doniger said Katrina is also a major reason the Bali talks are getting a nudge forward.

"Hurricane Katrina made a huge difference," he said. "Al Gore and his movie made a huge difference, so real legislation is moving forward and people from other countries see something new and different is coming."

Regardless of who is elected president, the expectation is that Washington will end up with a more aggressive policy toward climate change. And that is creating a tentative sense of optimism in Bali.

There are other looming issues — including reluctance on the part of China to make promises about cutting its burgeoning emissions. But it seems the nations of the world want to have some agreement to govern emissions after 2012.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.