The European Union voiced the first sign of discord at United Nations climate talks as Monaco’s Prince Albert II and Ethiopian President Melez Zenawi join envoys working on a plan to fight global warming.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, following a meeting with officials from Beijing, said she needed more information about China’s pledge to cap greenhouse gases after 2020. The Chinese proposal is aimed at coaxing industrial nations to renew the only treaty limiting fossil fuel emissions.
“I still believe that China holds one of the central keys to unlock the situation,” she said in an e-mailed statement last night. “The central issue remains how China will follow us and when. Here, more clarifications and further dialogue is needed.”
After nine days of meetings in the South African port city of Durban, diplomats from 192 nations have made little progress on how to renew the Kyoto Protocol, whose limits on fossil fuel emissions lapse at the end of 2012. China wants industrial nations to sign up to further commitments under the pact. The U.S. never ratified the accord, and the EU says it will extend Kyoto only if all major emitters adopt carbon goals.
“Between the U.S. position and the China position there are slim hopes we could actually get to agreement on launching an immediate process toward a legally binding outcome,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions in Arlington, Virginia. “What might be a possible common ground, we hope, is that parties at least agree to the objective of binding outcomes.”
At least 12 heads of state including leaders from Fiji to Gabon have arrived in Durban and speak to the meeting this afternoon. Todd Stern, the head of the U.S. delegation, will meet his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua to discuss when developing nations should take on mandatory targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The two biggest polluters account for more than 40 percent of the world’s fossil fuel emissions and are at the heart of an impasse over how to adopt a legally binding treaty on limiting climate change.
China, India and Brazil are pushing industrial nations for a second set of cuts under the pact. Japan, Russia and Canada say they won’t sign up for a second commitment period. The U.S. never ratified the treaty, saying developing nations that weren’t set targets under Kyoto should restrict their fumes.
Yesterday Xie, from the National Development and Reform Commission, said China would take on targets after 2020 if five conditions were met, starting with the “most important” decision by the EU and other industrial nations to extend Kyoto.
That triggered an “excited buzz” among delegates hopeful of reaching some sort of agreement in Durban, said Christiana Figueres, the UN diplomat leading the talks.
“If China moves, we’ll be able to see the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, we’ll be able to get the rest of the world committed to a road map which gets us to a single legally binding overarching agreement, so China’s position is absolutely critical,” U.K. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne said in an interview in Durban.
In a post on her Twitter account yesterday evening, Hedegaard said, “sometimes messages are more progressive at public press conferences than in negotiation rooms.”
Targets and Carbon
Xie told reporters yesterday that in addition to the Kyoto target, he’d require advances on climate aid and low-carbon technology sharing. The comments were the fullest recitation yet of China’s position, which previously was to avoid any talk of it adopting a binding target.
“China is beginning to answer the question of how do we sign up to the second commitment period,” South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is presiding over the talks for the host nation, told reporters. “It is laying its cards on the table. Other negotiators will be laying the cards on the table and work then gets escalated. And that is what makes us hopeful we are moving in the right direction.”
Stern, the U.S. envoy on climate change, told reporters that all countries must be involved in a global deal that applies the “same legal force” to each country with “no trap doors” and “no conditionality.”
“China has not been willing to do the kind of legally binding agreement that I’m talking about” in the past, Stern said. “In order for there to be a legally binding agreement that makes sense, all the major players are going to have to be in.”
The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto Protocol limiting pollution in industrial nations, and President Barack Obama’s carbon cap-and-trade plan failed to pass congress.
J.M. Mauskar, the Indian government official leading his nation’s delegation at United Nations climate talks, yesterday rejected the EU plan of a road map leading to a new climate deal as a “quid-pro-quo.”
“India has really taken over from China as the key block in the process,” Mark Lynas, climate change adviser to Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed said in an interview in Durban. “India and the U.S. seem to have formed an alliance of inaction. They’re both happy to filibuster the process for another 10 years.”
Lynas said deals in Durban could be reached on issues that “matter in the real world,” including technology, adaptation, finance and forests. “Unfortunately it looks like being held hostage to Kyoto.”
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