Venezuela and Bolivia, threatening to derail United Nations global warming talks, led a group of Latin American nations saying that any agreement had to include fresh commitments from rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Japan’s refusal to accept a second round of reductions after the current limits in the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012 means delegates at the meeting in Cancun, Mexico, are “wasting their time,” Venezuelan envoy Claudia Salerno told reporters today. She said her country and others can’t accept a package of decisions without agreement on a second phase of Kyoto.
“This is a position that is 180 degrees opposite to where Japan and a number of other developed countries are,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN diplomat who leads the talks. She noted that Russia and Canada also reject a second commitment period. “We need to find a compromise that will make everybody equally uncomfortable or equally comfortable.”
The division raises the risk that this year’s negotiations will fail in their goal to produce a package of decisions on forests, aid and technology a year after UN discussions in Copenhagen disintegrated.
“The outcome hangs in the balance,” Todd Stern, the head of the U.S. delegation said today as he arrived in Cancun for the talks. “We do not know which way it will go yet. We can get there as long as countries do not seek to become stumbling blocks, to halt or slow down progress.”
Envoys have reined in their ambitions for this meeting in the wake of Copenhagen, shooting instead for progress on protecting forests, verifying emissions cuts and channelling $100 billion a year in climate aid to developing nations.
“I am not concerned at all,” said Eileen Claussen, a former U.S. climate negotiator under President Bill Clinton who now is president of the Pew Center of Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia. “The whole issue will be deferred. I don’t think it will derail anything.”
The talks are being conducted on two tracks. One would extend the targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions agreed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. The other would form a new treaty giving obligations to both the developing nations and the U.S. Venezuela and its allies want to extend Kyoto and say that without progress on that front there can’t be an agreement.
“If there isn’t a second commitment period of Kyoto it’s very difficult for there to be a balanced package,” Salerno said. After a “horrific” night in Copenhagen, “we can’t give ourselves the luxury of failing again,” she said, adding that her delegation won’t walk out of the talks.
Brazilian, Indian and Chinese delegates have all said Japan’s rejection of new commitments under Kyoto threatens progress.
Failure of these talks could also endanger the UN process, said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director in Washington at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“If this meeting does not produce a successful outcome, a lot of countries are going to question using these meetings as a means to reach political outcomes,” Schmidt said in Cancun.
In Copenhagen, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao were among about 30 leaders who drafted the Copenhagen Accord, spelling out efforts the world’s biggest emitters will take to slash greenhouse gases and setting a goal of limiting warming since the 17th century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit.) Bolivia and Venezuela were among 6 nations to reject the deal because they weren’t consulted.
Since then, Mexico has worked to produce a “balanced” package of decisions in Cancun on preserving forests, setting up a fund to channel climate aid and spreading clean technology, Mexican Environment Minister Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada said in an interview yesterday.
“Mexico focused their efforts on recovering from the aftershocks we experience in Copenhagen last year,” South Korean Ambassador for Climate Change Shin Yeon-Sung said today in an interview. “They wanted to be realistically ambitious and they have succeeded.”
Mexico believes the talks are proceeding “well” and that the future of the Kyoto Protocol treaty can be decided two years from now, Elvira Quesada said.
“The Kyoto Protocol doesn’t need to be changed from here to Dec. 10,” when the current round of talks finish, he said. “It still has two years left of life, and we can dedicate ourselves to other areas where the world expects solutions.”
Stern of the U.S. said “a lot” of work has been done since Copenhagen on anchoring emissions pledges made in the Danish capital, starting up a green fund and establishing a mechanism to spread clean technologies.
“I’d hate to lose that on the grounds of strife over the Kyoto issue,” he said. “I hope we can find ground that both sides can live with.”
The U.S. never ratified Kyoto, which sets no binding greenhouse-gas emissions goals for developing nations. Elvira Quesada said an eventual solution could be to maintain the Kyoto treaty, which was devised in 1997, and add an annex or another legal document that brings in the U.S., China and other major emitters. Japanese negotiator Kuni Shimada said in a Nov. 30 interview that his country will accept new targets in a new deal that also includes the biggest emitters, China and the U.S.
That’s not enough for Bolivia, said Pablo Solon, the nation’s lead negotiator in Cancun.
“It’s like saying to your wife ‘for me to stay married to you, I hope you’ll let me take a second wife,’” Solon said.
Elvira Quesada said the Cancun talks may formalize the emissions pledges made in the Copenhagen Accord, which aren’t yet included in an official UN document. He urged all nations to make compromises in order to reach an agreement.
“There needs to be a balanced set of decisions that are useful to every country in the world so that every country in the world can go home and say ‘this is the benefit we reap,’” the minister said. “The perfect solution is the enemy of the good agreement.”
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