Canada opened a massive global summit on climate control today, with thousands of experts representing 180 nations brainstorming on ways to slow the alarming effects of greenhouses gases and global warming.
The 10-day U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change aims to forge new agreements on cutting poisonous emissions from the earth's atmosphere _ considered by many scientists to be the planet's most pressing environmental issue.
In the first ever meeting of all the signatories of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Canada's Environment Minister Stephane Dion had to manage the presidency of the 11th U.N. conference on climate change while facing the imminent collapse of his country's government.
Opposition leaders have garnered enough votes in the House of Commons to topple Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government in a no-confidence vote Monday night, forcing him to dissolve Parliament and set a day for national elections in January. Though Dion would remain in office, he would also be called upon to begin campaigning for his Liberal Party.
At the opening of the conference, Dion described climate change as "the greatest environment hazard" facing mankind. The U.N. Conference, with some 10,000 participants from 180 nations, is considered the most important gathering on climate change since 140 nations ratified the landmark Kyoto Protocol.
That agreement, negotiated in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, targets carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases blamed for rising global temperatures that many scientists say are disrupting weather patterns. The treaty went into effect in February and calls on industrialized nations to dramatically cut their gas emissions between 2008 and 2012.
The conference that opened Monday will set agreements on how much more emissions should be cut after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, though most signatories are already falling far short of their current targets.
The implementation of the Kyoto accord was delayed by the requirement that it win ratification in countries accounting for 55 percent of the world's emissions. That goal was finally reached _ nearly seven years after the pact was negotiated _ with Russia's approval last year.
The United States, the world's largest emitter of such gases, has refused to ratify the agreement, saying it would harm the U.S. economy and is flawed by the lack of restrictions on emissions by emerging economic powers such as China and India.
Jennifer Morgan, director of World Wildlife Fund's international climate change program, said negotiations for cuts to greenhouses gases beyond the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol were bogged down by the Bush administration's refusal to sign the treaty.
Washington has a delegation of dozens in Montreal, led by Paula Dobriansky, U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, and Dr. Harlan Watson, chief negotiator on climate change for the State Department. Though only observers to the Kyoto Protocol, they are active participants of the accord's parent treaty, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Kyoto calls on the world's top 35 industrialized countries to cut carbon dioxide and other gas emissions to 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. The targets vary by region: The European Union initially committed to cutting emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012; the United States agreed to a 7 percent reduction before President George W. Bush denounced the pact in 2001, saying it would cost far too much and exacerbate an already bothersome energy problem for the world's largest consumer of fossil fuels, the AP reported.
The European Union appears to be taking the lead in making commitments for the post-Kyoto era, endorsing a plan in June to bring emissions of greenhouses gases down 15 percent to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Another topic at the conference will be technology, with a special focus on the capture and storage of carbon.