Saturday, November 24, 2007

Commonwealth divided on climate change

From: Reuters


By Barry Moody

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Commonwealth leaders worked on Saturday to overcome differences on climate change, which poses a mortal danger to some of its members, with the result of Australia's election shifting the balance at the meeting.

On the second day of their three-day summit in Kampala, members of the 53-member club of mostly former British colonies were working on a final declaration which they hope will influence a major environment meeting in Bali next month.

Most Commonwealth countries, led by Britain, want a tough statement that sets binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada says it does not want to scupper such a declaration but insists it would be meaningless if it did not include big emitters in the developing as well as developed world.

The victory of the opposition Labor party in Australia's election on Saturday appeared to have shifted the balance at the meeting towards a strong declaration with binding targets.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd party has promised to radically change climate policy, ratify the Kyoto protocol and push for an ambitious target of a 60 percent cut in emissions by 2050.

Before the election, Australia's refusal to ratify Kyoto had angered Pacific island nations, including Commonwealth members, who could be submerged by rising sea levels.

A senior Canadian official in Kampala said Ottawa would refuse to sign a final declaration that was "weaker" than agreements by the recent summits of the G8 group of industrial nations and the Asia-Pacific grouping APEC.

Both summits were criticized by environmentalists for agreeing only on vague and "aspirational" targets.

"Canada is holding firm for a declaration that is as strong as the APEC declaration ... that all countries, notably major emitters, must contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions," the official said.

This was a reference to China and India -- a Commonwealth member -- which were exempted from targets set under Kyoto.

Kamalesh Sharma, elected as the new Commonwealth Secretary-General on Saturday, said he expected the leaders to agree a strong statement on climate.

"This particular CHOGM will certainly be recognized as having come out with an indicative road map and a declaration," he said.

Sharma, the Indian High Commissioner in London, will succeed New Zealand's Don McKinnon on April 1.

(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks and Jeremy Clarke; Editing by Charles Dick)

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