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EU Signals Flexibility on Demand for Climate Treaty Deadline

The European Union signaled it may be open to a different deadline for a new global warming treaty yet to be negotiated, widening the scope for an agreement at United Nations climate talks this week.

Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said its demand for countries to craft a legally binding pact by 2015 isn’t “cut in stone.” U.K. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said EU pledges on the environment would match other country’s ambitions.

The comments touch on the most controversial issue at the discussions in Durban, South Africa, that finish Dec. 9. Envoys from more than 190 nations are debating how to maintain momentum in the fight against climate change after limits on fossil fuel emissions set down in the Kyoto Protocol expire next year.

“The EU is showing some flexibility, but nothing will be decided until the 11th hour,” Bangladeshi envoy Quamrul Chowdhury said in an interview in Durban.

China and India are pushing industrial nations to extend the Kyoto pact. The U.S., Japan, Canada and Russia ruled out new commitments under the treaty. The EU has said it would only agree to extend Kyoto if all nations pledge to come aboard a legally binding agreement on climate by 2015. It’s willing to move even if other developed countries don’t rejoin Kyoto goals.

The EU accounts for only about 11 percent of global emissions. China and India, which have no targets under the pact, have become two of the top three polluters since Kyoto was negotiated in 1997, and industrial nations want the next treaty to cover that pollution.

‘Get Real’

“There is absolutely no point at getting a deal with 85 percent of the emissions outside and at the same time you’ve provided camouflage for everybody else to do nothing for a whole period of time,” Huhne at a briefing in Durban today. “We’ve got to get real on this. If we actually want to deal with the problem, other countries have to step up to the plate.”

Isaac Valero-Ladron, a spokesman for Hedegaard, said the EU position “remains unchanged,” that “nothing is cut in stone means that we have to negotiate” at the talks, and that the commissioner’s remark indicated that “2015 is enough time for those who say they are not ready.”

Hedegaard said, “On 2015, nothing is cut in stone. But I just think that we’re very patient in the European Union when we say at least by 2015 countries must have agreed the details on the future setup. We’re not claiming that they should finish tomorrow or next week or next month.”

Major Polluters

China, the U.S. and India have signaled they want to wait until after 2020 for new measures on limiting emissions, after the results of a study of climate forecasts from a panel of 2,000 scientists organized by the UN. This year’s talks are scheduled to conclude on Dec. 9.

“This poker game that is still going on is actually endangering the whole global process on climate change,” said Tove Ryding, Greenpeace International policy adviser.

Huhne said what the EU agrees will determine the strength of the commitments the EU makes. The EU has said it wouldn’t agree to extend Kyoto limits unless all nations pledge start a process in Durban leading to a new legally binding treaty that should take effect by 2020 at the latest.

“If you get short of that, what you will have is similarly weaker commitments to do something in the second commitment period at some point in the future,” Huhne said.

Henrik Harboe, the chief negotiator for Norway, which is outside the EU, described the 2015 deadline as a “starting position for these negotiations.” In an interview, he said, “There are several variables. So we can’t say 2015 will be make or break for the deal.”

Carbon Trading

Kyoto’s rules helped spur carbon trading and created the Clean Development Mechanism, generating $26.5 billion of credits and secondary trading of $68.2 billion, accounting for 18 percent of the carbon market since 2005, according to data from the World Bank. UN carbon credit prices have tumbled 54 percent since June 5 partly because of concern the Kyoto limits on emissions won’t be extended.

“The 2015 date is an important one,” Tomasz Chruszczow, Poland’s chief envoy to the talks, said in an interview. “It’s the year when the review of the Copenhagen pledges is due to assess if they are enough to close the emissions gap”

The U.S. won’t begin talks until China and India agree to take on legally binding actions without preconditions. In the meantime, countries should focus between now and 2020 on a voluntary emissions-cutting pact reached last year, according to U.S. lead climate negotiator Todd Stern.

“The present U.S. position of no new agreement until post-2020 is really blowing negotiations apart,” Kevin Conrad, the climate envoy for Papua New Guinea, said in an interview at the meeting.

‘Can’t Wait’

“We can’t wait for the U.S.,” Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini said today in Durban. “We have to design a new geography for the global alliance to fight climate change. We can start a new future Kyoto 2.”

At the center of the climate discord is a 2007 UN agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia, that treats China, India, Brazil and other big developing countries differently than industrialized nations. At the time, Bush administration negotiators reversed opposition to the pact following public pressure from other countries including Papua New Guinea.

President Barack Obama, who promised to help lead international efforts to fight climate change, failed to set a cap on U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions amid widespread opposition from lawmakers and businesses.

“Mr. Obama believes in it but can’t do anything about it, from what I can see,” former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said today in Durban. The U.S.’s refusal to participate in Kyoto is “scandalous,” he said.

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