PENANG, Malaysia - As a major United Nations 'framework convention' on climate change (UNFCCC) crossed into its second half on Monday, the official view is one of optimism that progress has been made in laying the ''building blocks'' for a future agreement.
But others say the discussions are hopelessly deadlocked and that proposals could fall far short of the drastic emission cuts required to curb global warming.
Speaking at a press briefing at the end of the first of two weeks of negotiations, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said the conference needed to do two things: ''First of all, it needs to deliver on a number of ongoing issues that are of particular importance to developing countries. For example, we need to advance on the question of adaptation, we need to advance on technology transfer, we need to strengthen capacity-building and we need to move forward on the issue of reducing emissions from deforestation."
''And secondly, it needs to launch a process on climate change action beyond 2012 when the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol ends.''
No final deal on a future climate regime will be concluded on the famed Indonesian island resort. The goal is merely to launch negotiations, to set an agenda on the ''main building blocks'' of a future agreement and to set an end date for conclusion of the negotiations.
According to de Boer, three divergent views have arisen. Some countries wanted legally binding targets for developing countries. Others said developing countries could limit growth in emissions provided incentives are put in place. Another major discussion centred on whether industrialised countries should accept legally binding targets or national-level targets.
"There's good progress in the future-oriented discussion on three of the four building blocks: good progress has been made on mitigation, adaptation and technology,'' added Boer. He pointed out that the fact that there has been less progress on finance did not mean the issue was difficult ''but simply points to the fact there hasn't been enough time to discuss that issue yet".
De Boer said he had observed a strong willingness on the part of countries to get a successful outcome from Bali.
But Malaysia's leading environmentalist Gurmit Singh, when contacted in Bali, had a different assessment. ''They always give a rosy picture,'' he told IPS in a telephone interview. ''I think the discussions are still deadlocked because no unanimous position has emerged.''
Much of the debate centres on technology transfer, he said. ''Larger developing nations such as China, India and Brazil are holding back. They want developed nations to show they are actually reducing emissions.''
The problem is that the developed countries say they will wait because the Kyoto Protocol only commits industrialised countries to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions between 2008 and 2012.
In the meantime, emissions from countries such as China, India and Brazil -- and even Malaysia -- have been increasing, says Gurmit, the executive director of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia (Cetdem).
For instance, the U.N. Development Report indicates carbon emissions soared by 221 per cent from 1990 to 2004 in Malaysia -- the fastest growth rate among the world's top 30 carbon dioxide emitters.
Malaysia's largest conglomerate, Sime Darby, which is mainly involved in the oil palm, property, energy and motor vehicle sectors, has adopted the tagline 'Developing Sustainable Futures' and says it is going green as concern mounts over the levels of deforestation caused by the drive towards bio-fuels.
Budget airlines in South-east Asia, on the other hand, are rapidly expanding their services across the region, oblivious to the emissions they are causing. .
Peter Hardstaff, head of policy for the Britain-based World Development Movement, in his blog from Bali describes an encounter with Pacific Islanders who are already ''in big trouble'' due to rising sea levels. He wrote of one member of the Cook Islands delegation who was ''gob-smacked by the fact that there is such strong (and currently successful) pressure to exclude aviation from emissions cuts in the next phase of the Kyoto deal.''
''He told me that it was only in the 1990s that cartographers started remembering to put his homeland on world maps because it is so small. He reckoned if the aviation industry has its way, we might as well take the Cook Islands off again,'' said Hardstaff.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has forecast a rise in global energy demand of 50 per cent by 2030. Much of this will come from rapidly growing economies such as China and India. If no climate policy is put in place, it could lead to a 50 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions
''That's why the developed countries especially the United States are saying, 'Why should we reduced emissions because China's emissions are now about the same level as the U.S.?''' says Gurmit ''They are going to put the blame on the big developing countries for any failure in reaching an agreement.''
''So it's left to be seen if the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recommendations -- and the EU itself -- which call for massive reductions in emissions by 2020, can be achieved. That means not only developed countries, but also developing countries, have to reduce emissions.''
Earlier this year, the parties to the Kyoto Protocol agreed to a range of 25-40 percent emission reduction targets by 2020. De Boer said these targets would be "an important reference frame for these discussions."
The big political question, says Gurmit, is how to ask developing countries to reduce emissions when they are not being given the technology transfer and financial aid promised in the UNFCCC, to which even the United States is bound because it has ratified the convention.
''You cannot ask developing countries to reduce the energy they need to eradicate poverty and raise the quality of life unless you give them the technology that will allow them to use more renewable energy so that they can become low-carbon economies.''
The U.S. has already declared that it would not be announcing binding emission targets at Bali, dampening any chance for the agreed 25-40 percent cuts being included in any final agreement that may be hammered out on Dec.14, when the Bali conference ends.
As the arguments swirl, Hardstaff grimly laid out what's at stake: ''The science says that with an 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions -- the absolute upper limit that is even being considered here by the politicians -- we have a 50/50 chance of keeping the rise in average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels.''
''Think about that for a second. The absolute maximum effort many governments are prepared to make will give us a worse chance of success than if we were playing Russian roulette. That's insane!''
© 2007 Inter Press Service