11 December 2011

Time runs short for climate deal

UN climate talks may be running out of time to make an agreement

By Richard Black | BBC News | 10 December 2011
Talks have overrun, so ministers may have to leave before signing a package

Many hours into an unscheduled extra day, some ministers have already left, and the South African hosts have yet to show a strategy for closing the deal.

Further delay was caused by the distribution of a fake document purporting to be an official text.

The real texts would see a process leading to a new global emission-cutting deal covering all countries begin next year, finishing by 2015.

They would see EU countries and perhaps other developed nations putting their current emission-cutting pledges under the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol.

The package is backed by the EU, and by the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) bloc, which together represent more than 70 of the world's poorest and most climate-vulnerable nations.

But it is unclear whether the BASIC group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China, or the US, can live with the ambition they contain for curbing emissions.

It is unclear also whether conclusion can be reached before real-world concerns such as delegates' flights and use of the convention centre force a closure.

While ministers from richer nations including the UK have already changed flights, not everyone is able to do so; and there is even talk that the meeting could become inquorate.

"There's so much clarity about the crisis - when even the International Energy Agency says 'you've got five years', it couldn't be clearer," said Tim Gore, senior policy adviser with Oxfam.

"And if they can't find a way to solve it with everyone in the room, they have to do it with those that want to, leaving the US behind."

Consternation and fury

Delegate after delegate says time is slipping away, and there are repeated mutterings about a lack of urgency and strategy from the hosts.

Friday saw demonstrations throughout the talks venue

What delayed matters further was a fake text issued apparently by the South African presidency after consultation with the EU, US, Brazil, India and China.

It contained weaker targets and longer timescales, and was initially greeted with consternation by the EU, Aosis and the LDCs, which have been pressing hardest for a strong deal.

The consternation turned to fury when it was discovered that the text was fake. European officials said it appeared to be a deliberate attempt to stall negotiations.

The perpetrator has not been identified. But it appears likely that the aim was to fracture the ad-hoc partnership between the EU and its developing world allies.

The real draft, meanwhile, proposes that the "roadmap" towards a new deal encompassing all countries would begin in the New Year and complete by 2015 at the latest.

If accepted, it would also spell out - for the first time in the UN climate process - that there is a mismatch, a gap, between the pledges countries have already made on cutting emissions and the cuts necessary to keep global temperatures within 2C of pre-industrial levels.

Developing countries have insisted that EU nations must put their existing pledges on restricting emissions under the Kyoto Protocol; and this is also in the drafts.

That does not mean tougher cuts in Europe in the near future, but it would put EU pledges under an international legal framework.

Agreement on managing the Green Climate Fund, which will eventually gather and disburse finance amounting to $100bn per year to help poor countries develop cleanly and adapt to climate impacts, also appears within reach.

Aosis and the LDCs have repeatedly accused India of being one of the hard-line blockers alongside the US and China.

But India's Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said this was not the case.

She said her concern had been to understand what the EU "roadmap" to a new agreement involved.

"I don't find myself at odds [with Aosis] at all, I think I share their concerns - they want quick action, we want quick action," she told BBC News.

"The fact of the matter is there should be very quick action, and my very quick action is that want a review of what Annex One countries (the traditional developed nations) have done and we want to know how far they've gone, and I'm willing to listen to what Aosis says."

But her German counterpart Norbert Roettgen said India was part of a blocking trinity.

"Only a very few countries stand in the way of an agreement here," he said.

"These are the main emitters, as been the case throughout the week - the US, China, and India."

BBC © 2011

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