NEW YORK (AP) – The latest news from the climate front isn’t good.

The Arctic ice cap melted this summer to the greatest extent on record. Scientists say oceans are losing some ability to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, the chief industrial emission blamed for warming. And the world’s power plants, factories, automobiles and jetliners are spewing carbon at a faster rate than anticipated.

The world’s nations convene in Indonesia next week at a conference pivotal for drawing rich and poor, northern and southern nations together. The goal is to save the climate that has nurtured man for millennia and head off a scientific forecast of super-hurricanes, collapsing ice sheets and drowning coastlines.

Behind closed doors on the resort island of Bali, that turbulent future will be the backdrop to sessions in which negotiators will tinker with and test language and nuance. Some words – “commitments,” “binding,” “voluntary” – could set off storms of argument by the end of the Dec. 3-14 conference.

Returning last month from an unprecedented trip to a fast-warming corner of icy Antarctica, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took note of the troubling new data.

“I believe we are on the verge of a catastrophe if we do not act,” he said on Nov. 16.

The next day, in Spain, a Nobel Prize-winning U.N. network of scientists issued a capstone report after six years’ study, saying carbon and other heat-trapping “greenhouse gas” emissions must stabilize by 2015 and then decline.

Without action, they said, temperatures will rise by degrees and a changing climate will change the world – via drought, severe weather, rising seas, dying species and other consequences.

The bad news is being heard in Washington, where the Bush administration was once slow to accept the climate science.

“We seek a “Bali road map’ that will advance negotiations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change,” Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky assured a Senate committee this month.

But the Bush administration shows no sign of reversing its opposition to emissions reductions mandated by international treaty. Dobriansky spoke of “each country designing its own mix” of measures, a policy critics liken to urging “voluntary” speed limits on highways.

Optimists hope the Bali meeting will inaugurate a two-year process of intensified negotiations on a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

That 175-nation accord, a 1997 annex to the 1992 U.N. climate treaty, requires 36 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2010.

The United States and Australia were the only major industrial nations to reject Kyoto, and as a result U.S. greenhouse emissions will grow 33 percent between 1990 and 2010 and Australia’s by 11 percent, the United Nations reported last week.

President Bush complains that Kyoto’s relatively modest cutbacks would damage the U.S. economy, and that quotas should have been imposed on such poor but fast-developing countries as China and India. This time around at Bali, however, the Americans will stand alone. Kevin Rudd, leader of the victorious Labor Party in Saturday’s Australian elections, has pledged to ratify the Kyoto pact.

This year or next, China will replace the United States as the world’s leading carbon emitter. But Beijing says it won’t be ready – not “for a large period of time,” as its vice foreign minister says – to take on economy-wide emissions caps that slow efforts to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty.

The Chinese point out that the U.S. and other rich nations are historically to blame for the carbon-laden atmosphere, and China’s per-capita emissions are just one-sixth the size of America’s.

At best, analysts believe, Bali could lead to a two-year negotiation in which the United States under a new administration, the Europeans, Japan and other industrial nations commit to deepening blanket emissions cuts, while major developing countries agree to enshrine some national policies – China’s auto emission standards, for example, or energy-efficiency targets for power plants – as international obligations.

“How do you include them in the process – China and India – keeping in mind they have to develop? It’s a question of finding the balance,” said Grenada’s Leon Charles, who has chaired recent U.N. discussions on a post-Kyoto regime.

Another U.N. discussion leader, South Africa’s Sandea de Wet, said: “We know the developing countries – the bigger ones at least – will have to do something.” But she doubted any negotiating mandate emerging from Bali would explicitly “commit” China, Brazil, her country and others to action. That would have to come in later talks.

The Bali balancing act, among almost 200 nations, will be further complicated by other issues: compensating tropical nations for scaling back deforestation, the source of 20 percent of global carbon emissions; financing an Adaptation Fund to help poor nations cope with climate change’s ravages, and clearing obstacles to getting advanced energy technology into the developing world’s hands.

AP-ES-11-26-07 1507EST

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