The news that Australia had signed up to the Kyoto protocol was greeted with applause on the first day of climate talks in Bali yesterday, leaving the US as the only developed nation not to ratify the pact.

Australia's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, wasted no time in breaking with the policies of his conservative predecessor, John Howard. The thousands of delegates to the UN-led talks will try to agree a path toward a successor to the largely symbolic Kyoto pact over the next fortnight. An increasingly isolated US delegation, led by the veteran negotiator Harlan Watson, sought to deflect criticism with claims that they would not block efforts to launch a new agreement.

"We're not here to be a roadblock," he said. While much of the focus at Bali will be on cutting emissions, comparatively little attention is being given to the costs to poor countries of climatic changes that we are already locked in to. Any cuts in current emissions levels, scientists warn, will take 20 years to change the balance of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.


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