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Biggest Polluters Hold Up Deal at UN Global Warming Talks

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard
European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said she hasn’t yet won backing for her demand for a “road map” pointing to the next climate treaty because some nations are holding back support. Photographer: Kimimasa Mayama/Bloomberg

China, the U.S. and India, the three biggest polluters, maintained resistance to a time line leading to the next agreement on global warming, threatening efforts to keep alive the only limits on fossil fuel emissions.

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said she hasn’t yet won backing for her demand for a “road map” pointing to the next climate agreement because some nations are holding back support. She indicated that China and India remained a block. Last night, the U.S. said it won’t agree to begin talks for a legally-binding deal.

“The responsibility lies very, very heavily on the shoulders of those big ones that are not giving in,” Hedegaard said at a news conference in Durban, South Africa. “I’m concerned about the pace. There isn’t much time left. If there is no further movement from what I have seen at four o’clock in the morning, there will be no deal.”

Two weeks of climate talks led by the United Nations that were due to end yesterday dragged past midnight with divisions remaining between envoys from more than 190 countries about how to limit fossil-fuel emissions after restrictions in the Kyoto Protocol expire next year.

Ministers returned to talks at midnight after a 3 ½-hour gap, during which South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is chairing the talks, produced a new draft text charting the outcome of the two-week conference.

‘Crunch Now’

“The crunch now is between two powerful coalitions -- the U.S., China and India pushing for nothing to be decided until after 2020, and the EU, the islands and Least Developed Countries on the other pushing for a Durban legal mandate to kick off treaty negotiations right away,” said Mark Lynas, climate change adviser to Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed. “Postponing action for another decade would fatally undermine the credibility of the entire UN process.”

U.S. delegation chief Todd Stern has denied blocking progress and lacking ambition to fight climate change. India’s lead negotiator, J.M. Mauskar, said in an interview: “It is wrong to say India is inflexible.” He declined to comment further. China’s negotiator Xie Zhenhua says the top priority of the Durban talks is extending Kyoto, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Xie said China has a “flexible and open attitude to discuss a process for post-2020 arrangements acceptable to all parties,” Xinhua reported. China’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a Bloomberg News request for comment.

Road Map

The new text charts a timeline for nations to agree by 2015 to adopt “a Protocol or another legal instrument applicable to all Parties.” The document is silent on when that instrument would enter into force.

The EU earlier rejected the host country’s previous proposal for a negotiating timeline leading to a new “legal framework” after 2020. Small developing countries also opposed the language because it would delay action, according to Kevin Conrad, head of Papua New Guinea’s delegation in Durban.

The EU says it won’t commit to new Kyoto targets after 2012 without agreement on a road map pointing toward a new treaty that would bind all nations. That would require support from China and India, which had no goals under Kyoto. The EU yesterday won support from its plan from 120 nations including islands in the Pacific Ocean and the poorest countries.

The U.S., which never ratified Kyoto, says it won’t agree to start negotiating a new treaty at this time because China, India and other big developing economies aren’t willing to take on legally binding commitments.

Breakdown of Trust

The dispute may poison the talks enough that negotiations collapse, said Alden Meyer, who has been following global environment meetings for more than two decades for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“If you have a breakdown of trust, what will the political ramifications of that be?” Meyer said in an interview. “There will be extreme anger from a broader range of developing countries that developed countries are backing out of the legally binding framework. What will the reaction be to that anger? Will they bring down the whole house of cards? We don’t know. Stay tuned.”

Greenhouse gases hit a record last year, and scientists at the conference warned that current pledges leave the world on course for the biggest temperature increases by 2100 since the last ice age ended. Developing nations said they’re upset the industrial nations haven’t already extended Kyoto pledges.

Life Or Death

“The climate change effects we’re experiencing in Lesotho and other countries are a matter of life or death because we don’t have the safety nets that the developed world has,” Manete Ramaili, the southern African nation’s environment minister, said in an interview. “We have to have binding targets. It’s a must.”

Envoys in Durban also working to set up a Green Climate Fund that would channel a portion of the $100 billion in climate aid that developed countries have pledged to mobilize by 2020.

“Parties want the Green Climate Fund to be launched in here,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.

With Japan recovering from an earthquake and European Union leaders meeting today in Brussels to save their common currency, this year’s climate talks have sidestepped increasing current pledges to reduce emissions that the International Energy Agency says are insufficient to contain the rise in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, a key goal of the negotiations.

Voluntary Measures

While Kyoto set emissions caps for industrial nations, it included only voluntary measures for developing nations such as China and India, which have become two of the three biggest polluters since the treaty was negotiated in 1997.

Europe isn’t going to weaken its position, said U.K. Secretary of State for Environment and Climate Change Chris Huhne.

“We’re reaching the point where a number of delegations have got to decide if they want to get a treaty with real environmental integrity,” Huhne said yesterday. “I expect that this will go on, and it may go on through the night, and we will stand firm for a treaty that actually delivers the goods in reducing carbon emissions.”

Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, an envoy from Democratic Republic of Congo who speaks for African nations at the talks, said at a news conference that it’s “do or die” for the talks.

“If there’s no deal it means we won’t do what’s right for the planet,” he said. “We’ll be punished by countries that can actually afford to wait.”

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