Climate talks in stalemate as leaders, ministers arrive in Durban
By Pat Reber and Laszlo Trankovits Dec 5, 2011, 10:54 GMT
Durban, South Africa - Heads of state or top officials from more than 190 countries were to start arriving Monday for the second week of United Nations talks on climate change.
But if the results of the first week were any indication, there was little hope for progress on a long-term treaty outside of the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol.
The preconditions set by the European Union to even continue for a second period under the Kyoto treaty - the world's only legal structure to reduce the carbon emissions blamed for global warming - have not been met.
The United States, China and India, which are the world's three biggest producers of carbon emissions and are not covered under Kyoto, have made clear they won't sign up for any future talks about a new, legallybinding treaty - at least not the way the EU wants them to.
The 27-nation block has said it won't extend Kyoto without a pledge by major emitters to sign a new treaty by 2015, which would go into effect in 2020. Russia, Canada and Japan have already signalled they won't continue after the first period ends in December 2012. And there are reports that Canada will actually withdraw from Kyoto before this year ends.
'There is real danger that the Kyoto Protocol will be buried here in Durban,' the environmental organization Greenpeace's climate expert Stefan Krug said.
Undaunted by the negative outlook, Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the umbrella agency for Kyoto and other climate agreements, is hoping that by the end of talks on Friday, a second commitment period for Kyoto will be in place and that a mandate will emerge for a broader treaty.
By the end of the first week, the UN had released two documents spanning 143 pages, laying out the options on the table: increasing the flow of money to poor countries to help them adapt to and mitigate the impacts of global warming; to share clean technology; and to protect forests.
The text was nearly five times as long as the agreements that generated so much hope last year in Cancun, which laid the basis for a 100-billion-dollar annual Green Climate Fund by 2020, made official voluntary emission reductions by countries not bound into Kyoto and confirmed the commitment to keeping temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees over pre-industrial times by 2100.
'It's a hundred-and-something pages,' Selwin Hart, an envoy from Barbados, told Bloomberg News. 'We know what the areas of disagreement are, and, quite frankly, we need a much shorter text that will allow for clear decision-making.'
The 10 heads of state expected to attend include those from Ethiopia, Gabon, Senegal and Fiji. Environmental ministers and chief climate envoys - like Todd Stern from the US State Department - will round out the delegations. EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard will represent the European Union.
Environmental groups came down hard on what Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists calls the 'coalition of the unwilling.'
Greenpeace International's Kumi Naidoo called for the 'week of belligerence, bickering and backstabbing' to give way to 'real deals about the future of our planet.'
'Those who are not interested in saving lives, economies and environments, like the US, must now stand aside and let those with the political will move forward,' he said.
Christoph Bals, policy head at Germanwatch, charged that not only Washington but also Moscow and Ottawa seemed to be 'intentionally throwing sand in the works' of negotiations.
Some EU diplomats were encouraged by China's willingness, declared two years ago in Cancun, to reduce its emissions - even if Beijing is not ready to discuss a new, broader treaty.
But Beijing's lead negotiator, Su Wei, warned anew in Durban that countries like China were still developing and needed to be allowed to increase their emissions.
One of the largest obstacles to a new deal in Durban is the global financial and economic crisis, which has put millions out of work. Reducing greenhouse emissions is expensive. Canada alone has calculated it would save nearly 7 billion dollars a year by not paying for the offset carbon credits to countries that plant trees and reduce emissions by other means, Bloomberg reported.
Even the Green Climate Fund was up in the air as the second week of talks began. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela are not happy with a proposal that most other major emitters signed off on in Cape Town in recent weeks.