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UN Seeks to Revive Stalled Climate Talks Amid Rich-Poor Rift

United Nations envoys today will attempt to revive progress at stalled climate negotiations, issuing a draft of the meeting’s possible conclusion aimed at bridging differences between rich and poor nations

Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, a Zimbabwean who leads a track of the negotiations that could bring U.S. and developing nations into a new treaty, will issue the document in Cancun, Mexico, after consulting with delegates in the 193-nation talks.

China, India, Brazil and Venezuela say the discussions are at risk because Japan, Russia and Canada have refused to sign up for a second round of cuts to greenhouse gas emissions once the current ones written into Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012. That discord may spread to other areas of the talks.

“The outcome hangs in the balance,” Todd Stern, the head of the U.S. delegation said yesterday 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.”

Venezuela and Bolivia, threatening to derail the talks, led a group of Latin American nations saying that any agreement had to include fresh commitments from rich nations to cut emissions of the gases blamed for damaging the earth’s atmosphere.

Japan’s refusal to accept a second round of reductions after 2012 means delegates in Cancun are “wasting their time,” Venezuelan envoy Claudia Salerno told reporters yesterday. She said her country and others can’t accept a package of decisions without agreement on a second phase of Kyoto.

‘Uncomfortable’

“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. “We need to find a compromise that will make everybody equally uncomfortable or equally comfortable.”

Since last year’s talks in Copenhagen a year ago, envoys have reined in their ambitions, 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.”

Copenhagen Rift

In Copenhagen, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao were among about 30 leaders who drafted an informal accord that set goals to reduce emission and promised to work toward keeping temperature gains since the 18th century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Bolivia and Venezuela were among six nations to reject the deal because they weren’t consulted.

“There are two scenarios for next week,” said Martin Kaiser, climate policy expert at Greenpeace. “The worst-case scenario, but still a likely outcome, is that they will bury the Kyoto Protocol here. The best-case scenario is that parties can agree on some building blocks towards a global deal next year, with a clear timeline and a clear mandate to do so.”

Mexico believes this year’s talks are proceeding “well” and that the future of the Kyoto treaty can be decided two years from now, Environment Minister Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada said in an interview on Dec. 2.

“The Kyoto Protocol doesn’t need to be changed from here to Dec. 10,” when the current round of talks finish, he said. “We can dedicate ourselves to other areas where the world expects solutions.”

Leaders Due

With senior ministers arriving next week for the final few days of the talks, the rhetoric is likely to heat up, said Artur Runge-Metzger, the representative for the European Commission. Leaders including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador plan to attend.

“As you come closer to the ministerial segment, what you normally see is that different parties start raising the stakes and their tone becomes sharper,” Runge-Metzger said. “Why not present a minister with a little crisis in order to push them a little bit harder?”

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 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.”

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.

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