Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said before the meeting began today that scientists have already established that the phenomenon is occurring, that tackling the problem is affordable, that the technologies are available, and that the world needs to act now.
There were even signs of a political response taking shape, he added, citing the European Union's offer to make major cuts in "greenhouse gasses" as long as other industrialized countries made the same pledge.
He stressed that the two-week conference in Bali would not solve the problem. De Boer hoped the meeting -- attended by an estimated 10,000 people -- would take a formal decision to launch negotiations for a long-term international climate deal, to agree an agenda for the talks and to set a deadline for completion -- probably by 2009.
Conference officials have also expressed hopes that:
- decisions be taken on promoting practical action to help countries adapt to climate change, including the establishment of a new global fund;
- an agreement be reached to continue the work of an expert group on the transfer of useful technologies to poorer nations;
- a plan is made to launch a pilot program to curb deforestation worldwide: "Deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by humans, so we have to come to grips with it," said de Boer;
- the Clean Development Mechanism, a fund to encourage wealthier countries to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in poorer countries, be adjusted to provide more money for poor developing countries, particularly in Africa.
De Boer said in his pre-conference briefing that "capturing" carbon and storing it -- for example, underground -- would play an important role in long-term action against global warming, and he welcomed the agreement by OPEC (the Organization of Oil-Exporting Countries) to set up a carbon capture fund, because fighting climate change "is not a war on oil, but on emissions."
He admitted, however, that "there is a lot of nervousness about it" because of fears of as yet unknown risks from storage, such as the sudden release of large quantities of carbon as a result of earthquakes.
Asked about the unwillingness of the United States to sign the existing climate change agreement (the Kyoto Protocol) or agree to international targets on curbing emissions, de Boer insisted that "the role of the U.S. in these negotiations is critical. It's still the largest emitter of greenhouse gas and to design a solution without the U.S. wouldn't make any sense."
The key, he said, would be to develop a long-term approach that the United States would embrace.
The influential coalition of non-profit groups, Climate Action Network, said today that its demands over the next fortnight include securing the inclusion of emissions from shipping and aviation in current and future agreements on greenhouse gases.