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Nations Divided Over Timing, Form of Future Climate-Change Deal

The U.S. will set a high bar for discussions on a new, legally binding climate treaty at United Nations negotiations starting next week, said Todd Stern, President Barack Obama’s lead envoy for the talks.

While the European Union may seek agreement on working toward a binding accord to take effect after 2020, and small island nations may want such a treaty sooner, the U.S. and other countries aren’t willing to commit to talks for a mandatory, post-2020 plan unless key details are worked out first, according to Stern.

“It’s premature to decide on what the ultimate legal form might be until you have a much better sense of what the content would be,” Stern, the U.S.’s lead negotiator, told reporters during a Nov. 18 briefing in Arlington, Virginia.

The U.S. has said any binding accord in which it participates must be “highly symmetrical” and require mandatory action from all major emitters, such as China, and not only from industrialized economies. China is the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, followed by the U.S.

Envoys from more than 190 nations will gather in Durban, South Africa, starting Nov. 28 for the latest round of UN-led climate-change talks. Negotiations for a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which doesn’t include the U.S. or fast-growing economies such as China, failed two years ago in Copenhagen.

Negotiators in Durban will debate whether to extend Kyoto’s emissions-cutting goals beyond 2012 to 2020 and will also attempt to move forward with the nonbinding Cancun Agreements reached last year in Mexico.

Cancun Plan

Stern said that the Cancun plan, rather than any new accord, will guide the world’s major greenhouse-gas emitters between now and 2020. The agreements include forest protection, methods to verify nations’ pledged emissions cuts and establishment of a Green Climate Fund to channel as much as $100 billion a year by 2020.

Envoys in Durban may reach deals on the Cancun Agreements and Kyoto Protocol and be “completely silent” on what happens after 2020, Stern said.

Conflicting positions threaten to derail the talks. The EU won’t commit to a new set of targets under Kyoto unless countries including the U.S., China and other big emitters agree on a pathway to a new binding treaty, European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said Nov. 3 in Brussels.

“Without the road map there will be no Kyoto Two,” she told reporters.

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