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UN Talks May Heal Rift About Greenhouse Gas Curbs

Brazil Climate Negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado. Photographer: Morin/AFP/Getty Images
Brazil Climate Negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado. Photographer: Morin/AFP/Getty Images

Brazil and Venezuela, two of the nations making the biggest demands of industrial nations at United Nations global warming talks, said they’re optimistic an agreement can be reached this week.

“We are engaging heavily with other parties,” said Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, the nation’s climate envoy, at a briefing today. “It is a good signal. Parties are engaging. I am very hopeful that we will get to a good outcome tomorrow.”

A rift over how to limit greenhouse gas emissions marred the UN’s annual conference on fighting climate change, due to end tomorrow in Cancun, Mexico. Japan last night hardened its opposition to extending limits on fossil fuel emissions under the Kyoto Protocol that expire in 2012. China, India and South Africa say new pledges under that 1997 accord are essential.

“We’re finding convergence and there’s good ground for there to be an agreement in Cancun,” Claudia Salerno, the envoy from Venezuela, which was among six countries that prevented an agreement at last year’s talks. “It won’t be easy. The difficulties are the same as last year, but the disposition of the talks is much better. No one plans to leave that room until we’ve understood each-other.”

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said today that it’s proving “very difficult” to reach an agreement on Kyoto. He also said envoys are having trouble working out the details of a program that would verify emissions cuts.

“I’ve booked my flights for Saturday morning,” Ramesh said. “They can’t carry this on interminably.”

Two Disputes

Brazil’s comments touch on one of the two most controversial elements of the discussions, which also aim to protect forests, channel $100 billion a year in climate aid to poor nations and establish a system for verifying emissions reductions. Off the agenda this year is the legally binding pact delegates tried and failed to agree last year in Copenhagen.

“A number of the crunch issues still need to be tackled,” said Wendel Trio, international climate policy director at environment group Greenpeace. Delegates also haven’t reached a consensus on how to check the accuracy of emissions cuts, he said, something the U.S. and European Union demanded from developing nations.

In another sign of discord, Bolivia’s representatives walked out of an informal meeting last night, said Luis Alfonso del Alba, a Mexican negotiator. Last year, Bolivia and five other nations triggered the collapse of talks in Copenhagen by blocking an agreement there from being adopted by the UN. Bolivia will remain in the formal part of the talks.

Bolivia’s Position

In a speech to delegates this morning, Morales gave no indication of seeking to block the outcome of the Cancun meeting, stressing instead that it would be “ecocide” to scrap the Kyoto Protocol.

“If we are to give hope to the peoples of the world we need to cool down the temperature,” Morales said. “We must live up to the hopes of the millions of families who are the victims of global warming.”

Britain, which along with Brazil, also was working on a compromise for the Kyoto issue, said progress has been made toward a pact, though it’s still uncertain whether the developing countries most insistent on extending Kyoto will agree to put aside their demands at this meeting.


“There’s no doubt where the center of gravity now is, and the real issue now is whether the countries that are on the extremes are prepared to recognise that they’re not going to get what they want here in Cancun,” Chris Huhne, the U.K. energy and environment secretary, told reporters in Cancun today. “It really is a need for the spirit of compromise.”

China last night said Japan’s decision to harden its opposition to renewing greenhouse gas limits in the Kyoto Protocol may derail this year’s talks by reducing the willingness of developing countries to make concessions in other areas of the negotiations.

“If a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol cannot be agreed at this Cancun session, it will create an international crisis of confidence in the forthcoming process of climate change negotiations,” said Liu Zhenmin, China’s deputy delegation chief.

Japan said it rebuffed a request from the UN for more flexibility on the subject. The country says that moving forward under the 1997 treaty makes no sense because it doesn’t require emissions reductions from the world’s two biggest polluters, the U.S. and China.

Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto said today that Japan wouldn’t “associate itself” with any future Kyoto limits, preferring instead a new treaty. Kuni Shimada, Japan’s lead climate envoy in Cancun, said yesterday the nation’s position on Kyoto remains “very firm.”

‘From the Top’

“That’s the position coming from the top,” Shimada said in an interview.

Russia and Canada also oppose agreeing to a second commitment period under Kyoto. The U.S. never signed up to the pact and wants future pledges to cut emissions to be done under the framework of a different treaty.

“We support the Copenhagen Accord because it brings in all the emitters,” John Baird, Conservative leader in Canada’s House of Commons, said in an interview today. “That’s the future. If we exclude 73 percent of all emissions then emissions will skyrocket. Nobody wants that.”

U.S. lead climate negotiator Todd Stern said he’s concerned the rift over Kyoto will thwart any advance in talks for a new treaty. There’s been “pretty good progress” in those negotiations, Stern told reporters in Cancun on Dec. 7.

‘Hate to Lose’

“You’d hate to lose that because the thing crashed over the Kyoto Protocol,” Stern said. “It is not clear whether it’s resolvable.”

Envoys should agree to channel at least 50 percent of climate funding to efforts to help the most vulnerable nations and people adapt to the effects of climate change, said Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and Honorary President of the Oxford, England-based development charity Oxfam.

“Climate change is undermining the poorest lifestyles,” Robinson said in an interview in Cancun. “Subsistence farmers, indigenous people and women are trying to cope with it. We have to put people at the center of this process.”

China’s Liu told reporters yesterday that a “balanced comprehensive outcome will not be made without agreement on the Kyoto Protocol.”

Danish Climate and Energy Minister Lykke Friis agreed that the talks hang in the balance.

“There is still a deal to be done,” she said in an interview. “We could also end up with a belly flop.”

Deadline for Finish

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, president of this year’s UN climate conference, is giving envoys a deadline of 6 p.m. local time tomorrow to come up with an agreement. The UN aims for this year’s pact to set up a more comprehensive one at the next full meeting of ministers a year from now in Durban, South Africa.

“What is required now is proof of our collective political will, not more time for discussions,” she said in a statement. “We need to send a clear sign of our desire to meet this global challenge. We must set the stage for further significant steps in Durban and beyond.”

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