ACCRA, Ghana (AP) -- Delegates at a key U.N. climate conference moved forward Friday on a plan to encourage developing countries to regulate carbon emissions by focusing on their largest industries.
The so-called "sectoral approach" sidesteps objections from countries like India and China, which refuse to accept national targets for the overall emission of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
How to get developing countries to commit to reducing pollution levels has deeply divided countries seeking to craft a new climate change agreement to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The meeting of 1,600 delegates and environmentalists from 160 countries was the third conference this year working on the accord, due to be adopted in Copenhagen in December 2009.
The Accra meeting also was discussing ways to integrate the conservation of the world's ever-shrinking forests into the Copenhagen agreement, as well as studying ways to raise and distribute the tens of billions of dollars needed annually to help poor countries deal with the consequences of climate change.
Under the Kyoto pact, only 37 industrial countries were required to meet specific targets. Together, they were required to cut emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. The United States refused to participate in the Kyoto regime because it excluded China and other large emerging economies from any obligation.
Under the approach now taking shape, developing countries would set pollution targets for specific industries, like cement production, steel or aluminum. Unlike the industrial countries, they likely would not be punished for missing their targets.
"Something quiet but quite dramatic is happening," said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "People are now talking about the same idea in the same language."
China and India voiced reservations, but did not reject the concept.
"There is now a basis for discussion" on the issue, said Katrin Gutmann, policy coordinator of the WWF Global Climate Initiative. "Before, we worried there would just be more clashes."
Details of any agreement on a sectoral approach would be complex and difficult to reach, and it is only one of many disputed components of an agreement.
But consensus appeared to coalesce around the idea that industrial countries will remain legally bound to meet a national cap on their carbon emissions, while developing countries would have flexibility in deciding which industries would be controlled and at what levels.
Advanced countries would provide the technology and funding to help other countries curb emissions in heavily polluting industries.
Japan, which introduced the proposal earlier this year to a chorus of criticism, said it was pleased with the generally positive response to the modified plan it brought to Accra.
Developing countries had earlier feared the Japanese plan was a backdoor device to impose binding targets that would limit their economic development.
"That is a great advancement compared with the beginning of this year," Japanese delegate Jun Arima told the conference.
The latest proposals also were met with guarded approval by the U.S. chief delegate Harlan Watson, who saw it as a potential boon for private enterprise and investment. The idea "will help engage industry in the process" he said at the meeting. "The private sector will have an important role to play."
The second day of the conference coincided with the publication in Geneva of a new report identifying the world's "humanitarian hot spots," where millions of people are most vulnerable to a heightened risk of natural disasters due to climate change.
In 2005-2006 natural disasters killed 120,000 people, affected 271 million people and cost US$250 billion, said the joint report by the CARE relief organization and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"Climate change is blurring the distinction between natural and man-made hazards," said the report. Weather-related disasters would occur anyway, but severe events such as droughts, floods and storms are growing more frequent and more intense -- "and the consensus among experts is that we are to blame."
The report, "The Humanitarian Implications of Climate Change," said the areas at highest risk during the next 20 to 30 years are Africa, particularly the northern Sahel, the Horn of Africa and central Africa; Central and South Asia, particularly the belt from Iran and Afghanistan through Pakistan, India and the Caspian region; and Southeast Asia, especially Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.