ANALYSIS: Ghost of Kyoto past: Treaty row could doom Cancun talks
By Chris Cermak Dec 9, 2010, 12:34 GMT
Cancun, Mexico - The UN climate change summit in Cancun has drawn endless comparisons to its failed predecessor in Copenhagen, but it is the ghost of another past summit that is more directly haunting this week's high-level talks.
It has been 13 years since negotiators in Kyoto, Japan, brokered the world's first legally binding treaty on curbing global emissions of greenhouse gases. That treaty is now at the centre of a firestorm that could end up blocking the world's environment ministers from reaching a comprehensive deal by Friday night.
Kyoto is part of a much wider and long-running debate between the wealthy and developing world over which countries should carry the most responsibility for cutting their climate-damaging emissions in the coming decades.
The argument has already helped derail many previous summits, including Copenhagen. The lack of targets for emerging powers like China and India to curb their growing emissions was also the United States' chief argument for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.
'The mitigation discussions are still pretty messy,' Jennifer Morgan, international climate director of the US-based World Resources Institute, said of the Cancun talks. 'There's still a risk that there could be no agreement.'
Draft texts that circulated around Cancun Wednesday proved her point. They included long sections about improving cooperation on tackling deforestation, technology, adaptation to climate change and steps to boost climate aid from rich to poor countries.
Chapters dealing with emissions, by contrast, remained littered with missing numbers and brackets around areas of disagreement, including whether governments should commit to preventing global temperatures from rising 1, 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.
Pacific island states, whose livelihoods are threatened by rising sea levels, are pushing for a target of 1.5 degrees or less to ensure their survival. Most larger powers have said they are happy with the 2-degree target for the moment although they have pledged a review by 2015.
Even the 2-degree goal is a tall order. Studies have shown current promises on cutting emissions would likely lead temperatures to rise about 3 degrees. Climate activists have pushed hard for ministers to recognize this 'gigaton gap' in any agreement.
Tara Rao with the WWF environmental group described the current impasse as 'a game of three-dimensional chess' between the United States, China, European Union, Japan and many other powers. Each is waiting for the other to take the first bold step on cutting pollution.
Progress on mitigation is a key demand of the United States despite questions over whether President Barack Obama could still meet his country's own pledges after losing congressional elections in November to Republicans that are more skeptical of climate change.
But US negotiators want China, which recently surpassed the US as the world's largest carbon emitter, and other emerging powers to join industrial nations in anchoring their own domestic pledges in an international agreement.
China, which argues wealthy powers mostly caused climate change to date, has insisted on an extension of the Kyoto Protocol for industrial powers and a separate, legally binding treaty for the United States before it would consider its own binding commitments.
Japanese officials insisted they would not allow an extension of Kyoto until China and the US sign up to an agreement while Europe has said it would push up its own targets for cutting emissions only if there is progress from other countries.
Morgan said she believes governments should find some way to smooth over their differences if only to avoid another summit failure along the lines of Copenhagen. She pointed to a more constructive attitude at the Cancun talks between the US and China.
'Although it feels rather relaxed here in Cancun, I think the pressure on delegates to deliver an outcome is pretty high,' she said.