By December 2009, binding greenhouse-gas emissions policies will be set for developing countries.
This week, negotiators from 163 countries dip their toes into poorly charted diplomatic waters as they prepare to craft a new agreement to fight global warming.
Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, through Friday, negotiators aim to lay out a detailed negotiating timetable for a draft pact they can submit for approval in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009. And unlike talks that led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which applied only to developed countries, these talks must set some type of binding greenhouse-gas emissions objectives for developing countries as well.
More players are facing decisions that involve significant changes in long-established patterns of producing and using energy, of economic development, and of delivering economic and technological aid to the developing world
The task is daunting, acknowledges Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
"We have less than two years to craft what may well be one of the most complex international agreements that history has ever seen," he says. "If we fail, we'll all be losers."
Setting a detailed schedule sounds a bit pedestrian, but he says negotiators can meet the challenge only if they organize effectively. "That's why this meeting in Bangkok is so critical," he says.
Indeed, the talks are following two tracks. Countries covered by the Kyoto Protocol are considering what comes next after the agreement's first enforcement period closes at the end of 2012. And everyone is taking part in setting the schedule for broader talks that will embrace countries that either haven't ratified the protocol or have ratified it but face no protocol commitments. Whether the two merge remains to be seen, some analysts say.