BALI - BEHIND the millions of words at the Bali climate conference, in documents, speeches and slick brochures, lay a set of simple numbers: 2 and 445 and '25 to 40'. That's 2 degrees Celsius, 445 parts per million of carbon dioxide, and a 25-to-40-per cent reduction in global-warming gases - a formula, some say, to save the planet from climate change's severest consequences.
In the end, at United States insistence, none of those numbers appeared in the United Nations conference's key final document. But in the coming two years of crucial climate negotiations, as authorised at Bali, those simple numbers are sure to become chips in the high-stakes diplomatic, political and economic bargaining of almost 190 nations involved.
Saturday's decision ending the two-week meeting capped a year in which a UN network of climate scientists delivered troubling news: Global warming is a fact, very likely attributable to manmade emissions; warming seas are rising faster all the time; impacts are already felt, from species extinctions to erratic weather.
Things could get much, much worse if the world does not sharply reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and a handful of other industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its series of reports.
The IPCC noted that the atmosphere has already warmed by an average 0.7 degrees Celsius compared with the early 19th century, and that with an additional 1.3 degrees, totalling 2 degrees Celsius, serious effects would ensue: regional water shortages; crop failures; widespread loss of coral reefs; more deaths from heat waves; more severe storms.
To keep the cumulative rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the panel concluded, heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should be kept below 445 parts per million in carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other gases. The concentration is now estimated at below 400, after subtracting offsetting heat-shielding effects.
Early in the Bali conference, more than 200 scientists, many of them UN report authors, made a rare foray into politics and diplomacy with a petition calling on the UN climate treaty nations to adopt, as a 'minimum requirement', those 2-degree and 445-ppm ceilings.
The European Union and many other nations had already done so, endorsing the goal of reducing industrial nations' greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, a formula the IPCC suggests to keep temperatures rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
That goal was also inscribed into the early drafts of the Bali final document, which envisioned contributions, too, from such fast-developing poorer nations as China and India, in the form of voluntary programs to rein in emissions growth.
'This process has to be driven by the science,' said environmentalist Matthias Duwe, of Europe's Climate Action Network.
'There are no questions any more about the sheer scale of the challenge we are facing.' But the numbers were rejected by the United States, and dropped from the Bali document.
'The European approach is focused exclusively on the science, but we also have to analyse the actual technological pathways it takes to get to a particular objective,' Mr Jim Connaughton, White House environmental chief, told reporters here.
'We can be very ambitious, but cuts that deep, that fast, are simply beyond reach.'
Alone among major industrial nations, the United States rejects the relatively modest cuts of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The task the rest of the world has now taken on, with the upcoming Bali Roadmap negotiations, is to try to bring the Americans into a new, post-2012 regime of deep and mandatory reductions in greenhouse emissions.
Many look beyond the Bush administration and toward a new negotiating partner, chosen in next November's US presidential election, a president many expect to be a Democrat.
They were encouraged by the words last week of a key Democratic environmentalist, Sen. John Kerry, discussing the upcoming climate negotiations.
'If scientists are telling us we have to keep Earth's increase in temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius and 445 ppm, that has to be the guide,' the Massachusetts senator said. 'That's the heart and soul of any negotiation.' -- AP