UN Aims to Boost Climate Talks Amid Rich-Poor Rift

United Nations envoys today attempted 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, issued the document in Cancun, Mexico, after consulting with delegates in the 193-nation talks. The paper includes a range of options on how to detail emissions cuts to be made by industrialized and developing countries.

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.”

Suggested Conclusion

The new document includes options for developed countries as a whole to accept an aggregate emissions targets. It urges them to increase the level of ambition of their greenhouse gas reduction pledges, which the UN Environment Program said Nov. 23 aren’t enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit since industrialization).

Separately, two panels set up to defuse the most controversial issues in the talks made proposals for an outcome in Cancun. One suggested an emissions target for the U.S. “comparable” to those given to other developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol. The other gave options for developing nations to limit pollution.

The documents were aimed at suggesting possible conclusions for the talks that senior ministers can examine when they arrive next week. Leaders including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador plan to attend.

In a meeting after the text was published, delegates from the European Union, Lesotho and Australia said the text could help the negotiations move forward. Grenadian Ambassador Dessima Williams said it’s a step forward, though it has shortcomings.

‘Lacks Sufficient Ambition’

“This paper lacks sufficient ambition for the urgent protection of islands and the world in the context of the threat of climate change” said Williams, who speaks for 43 island and low-lying nations. “It requires more work.”

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. Bolivia’s envoy said the new text isn’t suitable. Venezuela said it hasn’t had a chance to come to a view yet.

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 channeling $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 to 2 degrees Celsius. 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.”

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