Legally Binding Climate Deal Not Likely Anytime Soon, U.S. Says

A legally binding accord to combat climate change isn’t likely soon, though nations can take steps to curb global greenhouse-gas emissions, U.S. negotiator Todd Stern said today.

“The day will come in the future when countries can come together in a legal format,” Stern, who led the U.S. delegation in United Nations climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, said in Washington. “You can get an awful lot done on the way” to an agreement “and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Envoys from more than 190 nations agreed in Cancun on Dec. 11 to send as much as $100 billion a year to vulnerable nations by 2020, protect forests and outline methods to verify cuts in fossil fuel emissions. Disagreements between developed nations and emerging economies have kept the negotiators from crafting a new binding agreement.

“While there may be some kind of legal treaty down the road, that’s not happening, I think, anytime soon,” Stern said.

The U.S. and the industrialized nations aren’t prepared to enter into a legally binding commitment to cut greenhouse gases unless major polluters such as India, China and Brazil are willing to do so as well, Stern said.

“At the moment they aren’t” he said.

The agreement reached after two weeks of UN-led negotiations didn’t resolve debate over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, which limits emissions by developed countries until 2012. The decision on whether to start a second period to let governments sign on was put off until a UN climate meeting in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011.

Bigger Cuts Sought

China, India, Brazil and South Africa pressed developed nations to make bigger cuts under Kyoto while Japan, Russia and Canada said they don’t want to extend the accord unless the two biggest emitters, China and the U.S., accept the agreement.

Delegates ignored the rift by keeping alive the prospect of extending Kyoto without setting new targets for polluters.

The U.S. never ratified Kyoto because the treaty doesn’t require cuts by big emitters such as China and India.

“You can understand the hesitance” on the part of some developed countries since Kyoto covers less than 30 percent of all global greenhouse-gas emissions, Stern said.

Stern said an agreement aimed at laying the groundwork for a new climate deal, including all major emitters, is a positive step.

“This package obviously isn’t going to solve climate change by itself,” he said. “It’s a very good step and a step very much consistent with U.S. interests, and will help move the world down the path toward broader global response to stopping climate change.”

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