May 06, 2007

Science triumphs over politics at UN climate change meeting

SCIENCE had a rare victory over politics at this week's UN climate change conference, after a united call for action emerged despite fierce debate over how to best tackle global warming.

The UN's top body on climate change last Friday released a report approved by delegates from 120 nations, laying out how the world could avoid the worst impacts of global warming with minimal economic damage.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting began in Bangkok last Monday, delegates warned that it was fanciful to believe all the players had the interests of the planet at the top of their agenda.

They said nations would inevitably fight to protect their own economic and political interests, and as the meeting got under way, reports crept out from behind the closed doors that some delegations were indeed playing politics.

But after all the battles, wrangling and interventions, most agreed that science had triumphed, with politics sometimes playing a helping hand.

"You could argue that some of the delegates that are most critical and difficult towards the text are the most important to the text," said Michael Williams, spokesman for the UN's Environment Programme.

"By challenging and nitpicking and asking questions, that just increases the chances of us getting a better text rather than just being polite about it."

The United States, usually fingered as a key culprit in protecting economic interests over climate change concerns, escaped largely unscathed from the conference, with most delegates pleasantly surprised by its performance.

"I was relieved to see the Americans behaving, that makes such a difference," said Stephan Singer, of the conservation group WWF.

Shouldering most of the blame for trying to stick a political oar in the proceedings was China, which was said to be trying to play up the costs of taking immediate action to battle global warming.

Michael Mueller, a German environment ministry official who attended the talks, accused China of impeding progress towards cutting greenhouse gases, and said its delegates had been "masters of deception and the art of interpretation".
BANGKOK 06-May-07