China-U.S. Fault Lines Open Up at UN Climate Treaty Talks
China and India are in the 26-nation Like-Minded Developing Countries bloc that argues they shouldn’t have to bear the same legal responsibility for tackling climate change as developed economies. The U.S. and European Union say a new deal springing from United Nations talks must end the divide, in place since 1992, as already agreed in Durban, South Africa, in 2011.
Wrangling in discussions ending today in Germany suggests the controversy will be dragged out until a Paris conference at the end of next year, potentially undermining a final deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. Developing countries argue rich nations are responsible for the bulk of historical greenhouse gases and must lead the way.
“There’s a concern by the developed countries that there’s an attempt to reopen the Durban package and maintain the firewall,” Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said in an interview in Bonn. China’s submission “could have been written in 2008. In their view, nothing changed in Durban. The view of the U.S., the EU and others is that the world changed fundamentally.”
Chinese and LMDC submissions referred to Kyoto targets that are binding only for developed nations. “Applicability to all does not mean uniformity but differentiation in application” and the split between the two sides “must remain,” the LMDC said, referring to wording in the agreement reached in Durban.
“The concern is the firewall never really left us,” Jacob Werksman, an envoy from the European Commission representing the 28-nation EU, said in an interview. “We still have the Chinese and others insisting that there are two sets of countries and expectations for their commitments are determined by that.”
U.S. envoy Trigg Talley told delegates he can’t win backing at home for an accord that doesn’t cover all nations. China is now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases as its economy has grown, overtaking Japan to become the largest after America.
“The status quo won’t work for an agreement in Paris,” Talley told representatives in Bonn. “It becomes more of a problem as emissions profiles of relative contributors of the convention changes and as economies change.”
While China’s “dream” is to stick to a binding emissions reduction target for its whole economy, it isn’t ready, envoy Zou Ji said. “I would again emphasize distinguishing targets between developed and developing countries,” he said. Indian envoy Ravi Prasad also rejected applying rules universally.
One complaint of developing nations is a lack of clarity on how much money richer countries will provide to help them cut emissions and adapt to the effects of warmer temperatures such as rising sea levels and melting glaciers. Developed countries forked out $10 billion a year from 2010 through 2012 and have pledged to ramp aid up to an annual $100 billion, including private funds, in 2020, without spelling out interim levels.
China has proposed they commit to $490 billion through 2020, ramping up from $40 billion this year to $100 billion.
“There should be a scaling up between now and 2020,” Bangladeshi envoy Quamrul Chowdhury, who speaks for the 48 least-developed countries, said in an interview in Bonn.
Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists said developed nations will need to be clearer on what they can offer or poorer economies will make only “unambitious mitigation commitments.”
Delegates did agree to set up a contact group to take part in more formal discussions and begin to develop draft elements of an eventual treaty at the next round of Bonn talks in June.
“We’re now in more constructive engagement for negotiation and not just exchanging views,” Bangladesh’s Chowdhury said.
The next Bonn session should produce a document of 15 pages outlining elements of an eventual deal, to be turned into a draft negotiating text at yearend talks in Lima, Werksman said.
The goal of the treaty is to limit temperature gains since the industrial revolution to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), though island nations are seeking a target of 1.5 degrees to protect them from rising sea levels.
“We all know we’re going to come up short,” Ronny Jumeau, a Seychelles envoy negotiating for 44 island nations, said in an interview. “The way things are going now, maybe by 2020 there’s not going to be much left of some of us. Everybody should take action and everybody has to do what they say they’re going to.”