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Climate Talks Inch Ahead as EU, Australia See a Step Forward

The United Nations made headway at global warming talks as the European Union, Australia and Lesotho said a text sketching out a compromise between rich and poor nations on limiting greenhouse gases was a step forward.

The proposal, which suggests options for ministers meeting in Cancun, Mexico, calls on the world to limit temperature increases since the 1700s to “below 2 degrees Celsius.” Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia will be among 25 leaders at the talks.

“The pieces of the puzzle are now known,” Peter Wittoeck, a Belgian envoy who speaks for the 27 members of the European Union, said yesterday. “The coming week will be decisive in piecing them together.”

The comments at an open meeting of the delegates last night raise the chance that envoys from 194 nations can bridge differences about a package to curb global warming after Brazil, China and India led developing nations in voicing concern about the lack of ambition for the talks this year.

Since negotiations in Copenhagen collapsed without a new legally binding agreement in December 2009, UN officials have scaled back the scope of the talks. This year’s effort may produce a package of measures to protect forests, verify emissions reductions and channel $100 billion a year in aid to nations struggling to adapt to climate change.

Delegates from Pakistan and Norway also said the discussions are progressing. Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, the Zimbabwean envoy who drafted the proposal, said “important agreements” can be reached in the Mexican resort.

Basis for Negotiation

“The draft text provides a good basis for negotiation,” said Gordon Shepherd, head of the global climate change initiative at the environmental group WWF. “What is missing is a clear and formal recognition that there is a significant gap between current pledges and the goal” of limiting temperatures.

Divisions also remained. Bolivia’s envoy Pablo Solon drew loud applause when he called the text “unbalanced” and listed a series of grievances his delegation had with it, including the lack of effort to curtail temperature gains more quickly.

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

U.S. Position

U.S. delegation chief Jonathan Pershing said the document “isn’t yet complete.” Selwin Hart of Barbados said more detail is needed on institutional arrangements that would help the most vulnerable nations adapt to the effects of rising temperatures.

The paper lacks formal status and is separate to a formal negotiating text that delegates worked on at their last meeting in Tianjin, China, in October.

“It’s time for us to change the mode of our negotiations,” said Ian Fry, the envoy from Tuvalu. “We now have to take ownership of this document and have it as a negotiating text into which parties can put their views.”

One issue that has threatened progress is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the current emissions-limiting treaty. Japan has said it refuses to accept commitments beyond 2012 when current ones expire. Bolivia and Venezuela say said they can’t accept any decision that doesn’t ensure the continuation of the treaty.

“We need to redouble our efforts,” Mukahanana-Sangarwe said. “The work ahead requires important compromises.”

Options Included

The new document includes options for developed countries as a whole to accept 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.

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.

Venezuela and Bolivia, threatening to derail the talks, earlier this week led a group of Latin American nations saying that any agreement had to include fresh commitments from rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama, Wen

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 emissions 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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