About 190 nations met on Monday under pressure to sharpen the fight against climate change by involving outsiders such as the United States to China in a long-term U.N.-led pact.
After a year of intense climate diplomacy, about 10,000 delegates at the U.N. talks in Bali, Indonesia, met to try to start negotiations on a "roadmap" that will lead to a broad U.N. pact by late 2009 to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
"Don't cook the planet," environmental group Greenpeace said in a banner outside the beach resort where the Dec. 3-14 talks began with a formal ceremony on Monday. An activist dressed as a polar bear stood by a giant thermometer in sweltering heat.
The trick is to find the magic formula that gets every nation on board, from the biggest emitters such as the United States and China to the smallest and most vulnerable, such as tropical island states or sub-Saharan African nations.
Over the past years, climate change talks have been bogged down by arguments over who's going to pay the bill for cleaner technology and how to share out the burden of emissions curbs between rich and poor nations.
"The first thing that the rich countries should do is set their own houses in order and start reducing emissions," Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N. climate panel that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, told Reuters in Brussels.
The bottom line is no nation at the Bali talks wants its economy to suffer by implementing strict emissions curbs. But climate scientists say time is running out.
"We're already seeing many of the impacts of climate change," said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, referring to melting glaciers, droughts and rising seas. "We are on a very dangerous path," he told a news conference.
The Bali gathering aims find a way to update or replace the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 36 industrial countries to emissions curbs between 2008-12. The United States and developing nations have no caps under Kyoto.
De Boer said the talks had to conclude in 2009 to avoid a gap after the Kyoto Protocol's first phase ends in 2012.
"It's here and now. Indonesia is already suffering from the impacts of global warming," said Fitrian Ardiansyah of the WWF conservation group. WWF said weather records were being broken around the world, from a melting Arctic to Australian droughts.
The European Union, which has pledged to cut emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, said that countries should start to look at hard new commitments in Bali. "We need real negotiations in Bali," said Artur Runge-Metzger, head of the EU Commission delegation.
The United States, which has set no ceiling on emissions, says Kyoto is flawed because it excludes developing nations from legally binding emissions cuts.
But China and India, among the world's top polluters and comprising more than a third of humanity, say it's unfair and unrealistic for them to agree to targets, particularly as they try to lift millions out of poverty.
They say emissions from rich nations are responsible for the bulk of man-made greenhouse gas pollution to date and those nations should take the lead in fighting climate change.
Publicly, at least, China and the United States say they will be open and flexible at Bali.