U.S. Climate Stance ‘Blowing Negotiations Apart,’ Envoy Says

The U.S. view that no new global climate deal is possible before 2020 is derailing negotiations aimed at slashing the world’s oil and coal emissions, according to an envoy at the talks.

“The present U.S. position of no new agreement until post-2020 is really blowing negotiations apart,” Papua New Guinea’s chief climate delegate, Kevin Conrad, said in an interview in Durban, South Africa, where United Nations-led climate talks are divided over when to seek a new treaty to curb global warming.

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. Other countries say it’s crucial to pursue a stronger agreement now.

“We can’t wait for the U.S.,” Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini said today in Durban.

The European Union is pressing for a new treaty by 2015 and says it won’t move ahead with cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only climate treaty, without a commitment from all nations to negotiate a new pact. The 27-nation bloc so far has shown no signs of softening its position during the two-week UN talks that end Dec. 9, leaving the future of Kyoto in doubt.

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 partly because of concern the Kyoto limits on emissions won’t be extended.

‘Kyoto 2’

Canada, Russia and Japan say they won’t continue under Kyoto after an initial phase of cuts expires next year. The U.S. never ratified Kyoto because it doesn’t require mandatory action from China, the world’s bigger carbon emitter.

Meanwhile, China, India and Brazil are pushing industrial nations to extend Kyoto, saying any climate pact must recognize the historical responsibility of the nations that caused the problem to act first.

The EU should continue in Kyoto while also seeking new partnerships with China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and India, Clini said in Durban. “We have to design a new geography for the global alliance to fight climate change,” he said. “We can start a new future Kyoto 2.”

Legally Binding

While the U.S. isn’t against the notion of a legally binding treaty, Stern says it won’t begin negotiations because China, India and other big emerging economies aren’t yet willing to be equally bound by such an agreement.

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.

“If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us,” Conrad said during a final plenary session at the 2007 Bali meeting. “Get out of the way.”

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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