U.S. Says Push for Legal Limits on Carbon Emissions Deadlocked
The push to extend legal restrictions on carbon emissions is deadlocked, threatening the United Nations climate program based around the Kyoto Protocol, said the head of the U.S. delegation at talks in Germany.
Jonathan Pershing, the State Department envoy at the meeting in Bonn, said China and India are refusing to take on legally binding commitments that the U.S. says are a condition for giving its own emissions targets legal force.
“We are not prepared to have a legal agreement that would apply to us but not to other major economies,” Pershing said. “At this point in time, all major economies have not indicated that they are willing to do that.”
The standoff risks unraveling the international effort to limit climate change that has been pieced together through 20 years of negotiations. Japan, Russia and Canada have already said they won’t extend their existing commitments once the current Kyoto limits expire in 2012. The European Union said China isn’t offering enough to justify more concessions.
This meeting of officials and civil servants is aimed at preparing the agenda for the annual climate talks attended by ministers, which will start in November in Durban, South Africa.
“It’s very, very hard to see what the meat on the deal is going to be,” Juergen Lefevere, acting head of the EU delegation, said today in Bonn. “It’s a question we’ve been asking at every single meeting and we’re not getting a response to the question.”
The U.S. and China, which are negotiating climate commitments outside the 1997 Kyoto treaty, haven’t provided enough information on the climate obligations they will accept to allow the EU to make a second commitment under Kyoto, Lefevere said in an interview.
Developing nations and UN officials are pressuring the EU to commit to further limits on its carbon emissions to sustain the momentum of the international effort. Christiana Figueres, the UN envoy leading the talks, said extending the Kyoto curbs was a key objective for Durban.
“Resolving the future of the Kyoto Protocol is an essential task this year and will require high-level political guidance,” Figueres said at a news conference. The treaty “remains fundamental and critical.”
The EU is withholding its pledge for a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to try and leverage other major emitters such as the U.S., China and Japan to join a broader agreement, said Marjo Nummelin, a negotiator with the Finnish delegation.
“If it’s just the EU, Switzerland and Norway, then that is no way to bring about a solution,” Nummelin said in an interview in Bonn. Still, “the EU takes its role at the political negotiations quite seriously.”
The EU is the last major economic bloc still open to extending the greenhouse-gas limits set out in the Kyoto treaty in 1997. The U.S. never ratified it. China, the world’s largest emitter, was given no cap under the agreement because it is a developing economy.
“We need to have a second commitment period, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Collin Beck, the Solomon Islands ambassador to the UN, said in an interview. “That is where the momentum is being built.”
Negotiators this week have made progress toward extending carbon trading mechanisms and building institutions to help developing countries adapt to changes in the climate. Last week, work was marred by arguments over the agenda for the meeting.
“While progress is still uneven, parties have returned to constructive talks and have been moving forward step by step,” said Tasneem Essop of the World Wildlife Fund, a pressure group observing the talks. “What we need now is a shift into a higher gear and a resolution of the difficult issues.”
A coalition of 130 developing nations including China last week said that extending the Kyoto Protocol should be the priority for Durban.
Under Kyoto’s first enforcement period, 35 nations and the EU committed to reduce emissions by a collective 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Figueres said last week that a gap is likely between the first and second round of commitments because of the lag time needed to amend the Kyoto Protocol and ratify it in all member-nations.
“On the big political issues such as the legal form and a second Kyoto commitment period, I don’t think a lot of progress has been made,” Nummelin said. “The pressure is on the EU.”
Delegates are aiming to arrange an additional meeting in September or October, though Figueres said last week the UN must raise funds from member nations to pay for it. The U.S. has pledged to help fund the gathering, Pershing said.
The meeting may cost about $7 million, Alden Meyer, an observer from the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimated at a press conference today.
Delegates this year will also aim to decide on ways to extend the legal framework to countries outside the protocol, she said, citing consultations by the South African officials who will host the meeting.
Officials also aim to establish a committee to help countries adapt to a changing climate, design a green climate fund that will manage some of the $100 billion a year that rich countries have pledged to mobilize by 2020 and identify sources of that funding, Figueres said.
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