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Officials Gather for UN Climate Change Conference in Bali


Government officials and environmentalists are converging on the Indonesian island of Bali to debate ways to deal with climate change. As VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Jakarta, one of the main topics of conversation at the United Nations-sponsored conference will be a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which expires in 2012.

The 1997 Kyoto accord required industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - which are generally thought to be responsible for global warming - by specific amounts by the year 2012.

But developing economies, including China and India, were exempt from the accord. And the United States, then the largest emitter, now second behind China, never formally signed on.

Ten years later, however, most of the world agrees that global warming is a man-made threat. Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar tells VOA he expects that the Bali meeting will achieve more comprehensive results than Kyoto.

"My expectation is that we will gain world consensus on what to do to combat climate change, and that means the participation of every country and everybody on our planet," said Rachmat.

U.S. officials say they will work toward a framework for global action at the Bali conference, but Washington still refuses to accept specific targets for greenhouse reductions.

Indonesia, the host, is destroying its forests at a rapid rate, and is considered the third largest greenhouse gas emitter. It, too, says it will join the global effort - but as Rachmat says, Jakarta wants rich nations to compensate it for slowing deforestation.

"We would welcome positive intervention by incentive from developed countries for us to conduct our business," said Rachmat.

The Kyoto Protocol focused in part on preserving and enhancing forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases. At the same time, it called for the development of renewable forms of energy, known as "biofuels" or "agrifuels."

Environmentalists are now concerned that in the rush to find alternative fuel sources, trees are being lost to make way for palm oil plantations in Asia, and for soy and sugar plantations in Latin America.

Stephanie Long of the environmental group Friends of the Earth says destroying forests to plant crops for agrifuels is not a solution.

"We are resolutely clear that the agrifuel industry is not a real solution to climate change, because of the range of environmental and social problems that accompany agrifuel," said Long.

More than 10,000 people, including ministers and senior officials from more than 180 countries, are expected to attend the Bali conference, which runs from December 3 to the 14.

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