Sep 26, 2009

UN climate talks resume without summit boost

Estimated Article Reading Time: 6 min.

UN negotiations for a global climate treaty resume in Bangkok on Monday, mired in a disputed draft text after summit-level talks failed to deliver hoped for breakthroughs.

Just 10 weeks will be left before a showdown in Copenhagen that scientists say will be critical for the planet. Yet nearly two years of haggling have failed to tease out even the kernel of an agreement.

“With the Copenhagen conference looming, there is no common scenario that can serve as a basis for negotiations,” the Energy and Environment Institute at the International Organisation of La Francophonie said Saturday.

Experts warn that global temperatures must rise no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 over preindustrial times, a target embraced by the leaders of the G8 nations in July.

Scientists also say emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases should peak just six years from now.

Without this drastic action, drought, floods and rising sea levels could grip the world by the end of the century, causing famine, homelessness and strife, they fear.

The Bangkok talks within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) run from September 28 to October 9.

They are the penultimate session before the December 7-18 meeting, the culmination of the two-year “Bali Road Map” intended to yield a treaty that will tackle climate change beyond 2012.

But even UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer admits the negotiation draft is a dog’s breakfast.

“It is an absolute mess,” de Boer told journalists in New York. “The translators came to me to say they are unable to translate it [from English] because the text doesn’t make any sense.”

One European negotiator described the text as 200 pages of clashing positions delineated by more than 2,000 sets of brackets.

“The document is utterly useless in its present form. It is going to take a Herculean effort from now until Copenhagen to reach an agreement,” he told AFP.

Diplomats have been hoping desperately for a top-level push to the labyrinthine, 192-nation process.

But a UN climate summit in New York, followed by a G20 leaders’ conclave in Pittsburgh, failed to break the logjam on either of the two big issues — reducing carbon emissions and money.

“When it comes to the negotiations, they are in fact slowing down; they are not going in the right direction,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said at the G20.

On emissions, developed economies acknowledge a historical responsibility for today’s warming. Most have put numbers on the table for slashing their carbon pollution by 2020 and by 2050.

But, they say, developing nations — especially China, India and Brazil and other major emitters of tomorrow — should also pledge to curb their output of greenhouse gases.

Poor and emerging economies reject the rich-nation targets, pegged to a 1990 benchmark, for emissions cuts by 2020: 20 percent for the European Union, 25 percent for Japan if others follow suit, and the equivalent of four percent for the United States.

They call for 2020 cuts of up to 45 percent instead, and refuse to take on hard targets themselves.

President Hu Jintao did vow at the United Nations to make China’s economy less carbon intensive — essentially promising to use fossil fuels more efficiently — by a “notable margin” before 2020. But he put no numbers on the table.

China has overtaken the United States as top carbon polluter, according to several scientific assessments. Together, the two nations account for 40 percent of greenhouse gases.

Another big disappointment was the failure of the G20 summit to deliver firm pledges for funds to help fight global warming and its consequences. Leaders mandated their finance ministers to work up numbers in the coming weeks.

In this gloomy light, some negotiators and observers have dialed down their expectations, saying that the idea of inking a full-fledged treaty in Copenhagen is remote.

At best, say these sources, the conference could yield a broad “architecture” that would be fleshed out into a detailed agreement over the course of next year.

earlier related report

Climate groups dismayed by G20’s lack of interest

Climate change campaigners expressed dismay on Friday after the leaders of the world’s most important economies failed to earmark funds to pay for a deal to cut carbon emissions.

States are due to hold a global summit — billed as the last chance to halt global warming — in Copenhagen in December in order to agree on ambitious new targets for cutting the production of greenhouse gases.

Emerging economies, led by a skeptical India, have insisted that they can not sign up to such a deal unless the rich-world nations whose industry caused the problem pay billions to finance their transfer to new clean technologies.

Campaigners had hoped that under the chairmanship of US President Barack Obama the Group of 20 summit might agree to set aside 150 billion dollars to pay for this work and convince emerging economies to sign the deal.

The final summit statement ageed by the leaders, however, was fairly vague.

“We will spare no effort to reach agreement in Copenhagen through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations,” it said, without going into specifics of how the funding gap might be met.

Hopes that the world’s leading powers would get behind measures to help poorer countries fight climate change were raised in July in L’Aquila, Italy, when G8 leaders sent their finance ministers to seek sources of cash.

On Friday, however, the broader G20 group promised simply to “intensify our efforts” and sent the ministers back to do some more research.

“We welcome the work of the finance ministers and direct them to report back at their next meeting with a range of possible options for climate change financing,” the final statement said.

“This was not a breakthrough on the climate issue… but over lunch we had a very open discussion that we need to take responsibility as leaders,” said Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who chairs the European Union.

Reinfeldt promised the leaders would seek to meet again within two weeks to make another stab at resolving the issue, but pressure groups were outraged, singling out Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel for scorn.

“This is a crisis of leadership. The rich-country G20 leaders — especially Merkel and Obama — set themselves a deadline for a climate finance proposal, and then slept right through it,” said Ben Wikler of Avaaz.

“Until the US, EU and Japanese leaders wake up and put together a serious climate finance plan, there will be a 150 billion dollar pothole on the road to Copenhagen,” he told reporters in Pittsburgh for the summit.

Max Lawson, senior policy adviser for the aid agency Oxfam, said: “With 72 days to Copenhagen rich countries have once again refused to put up the funds needed to deliver the deal in Copenhagen.”

The G20 did endorse an Obama-inspired plan to reduce government subsidies on fossil fuels, a move welcomed but dismissed as not enough by campaigners, but no one was pretending the leaders made progress towards a Copenhagen deal.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the summit only took up global warming in broad terms and that he simply didn’t know whether there would be a new deal to be signed in Denmark to replace the Kyoto protocol.

“I’m not an astrologer,” Singh told a news conference dismissively.

“There is a broad, vague agreement that any agreement in which developing countries are also required to take any national action will have to be accompanied by credible action on the part of developed countries,” he said.

“But other than expressing a pious wish with regard to the success of the framework convention meeting in Copenhagen, the Group of 20 I think did not go into the mechanics of these things.”

The Kyoto Protocol required rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions but the requirements expire at the end of 2012, and experts say emerging powers such as India and China must take part if a new plan is to succeed.

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