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In Bali, new urgency for a climate change accord

As negotiators prepare to discuss a new emissions framework in Bali, environmental damage continues to exceed expectations.

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Talks to frame global efforts to fight climate change begin here Monday, as delegates from more than 180 countries try to design an agreement that picks up where the 1997 Kyoto Protocol leaves off.

The meeting represents the most rigorous test yet of whether the UN process is nimble enough to yield the deep cuts in emissions that most scientists say could forestall the more serious economic, social, and ecological effects of global warming.

Evidence continues to mount that environmental changes are occurring faster than even the best climate models have projected.

A new survey of recent tropical-climate studies released Sunday showed bands of semitropical arid regions that lie north and south of the equator are expanding into higher latitudes, bringing drier conditions to already water-strapped areas in the Mediterranean, the southwestern US, northern Mexico, and Australia.

In the report, scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and two universities explain that the tropical-climate belt has widened by between 2 and 4.8 degrees of latitude between 1979 and 2005 – an expansion rate expected only later this century.

"By any measure, 2007 stands out as a critical year, maybe even a turning point" in efforts to deal with climate change, says Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center for Global Climate Change.

Compared with ten years ago, she says, the science of climate change is on far firmer ground. People around the world are beginning to feel the effects of climate change locally, contributing to a gathering political will to move beyond the Kyoto agreement and adopt tougher controls on emissions.

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