Saturday 10 December 2011

Ministers battle to save UN climate talks


By Agnieszka Flak and Barbara Lewis

Sat Dec 10, 2011 3:37pm GMT

Hopeful during the opening plenary of COP 17

DURBAN (Reuters) - Ministers fought to save U.N. climate talks from collapse on Saturday, searching to narrow differences between rich and poor nations over how quickly to fight global warming.

Ministerial negotiations in the South African port city of Durban dragged into Saturday afternoon but with many delegates due to head home, there was a strong chance real decisions would be put off until next year.

That would be a major setback for host South Africa and raise the prospect that the Kyoto Protocol, the only global pact that enforces carbon cuts, could expire at the end of next year with no successor treaty in place.

Behind the haggling over technical details, the talks boil down to a tussle between the United States, which wants all polluters to be held to the same legal standard on emissions cuts, and China and India which want to ensure their fast growing economies are not shackled.

"We are just right now discussing how to increase ambition, not only in the long-term but also in the short term," said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

"I don't give up. We never give up until all the possibilities are exhausted. Some of them are moving. It would be such a pity if the world wasted this opportunity," she said.

Negotiators were arguing over the wording of a range of highly technical sections that make up the broad agreement, which covers a range of topics from greenhouse gas emissions targets to forestry accounting rules, green tech transfers and cash to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Two weeks of talks between almost 200 states in the South African port of Durban were due to end on Friday. But island nations and developing states under threat from the rising sea-levels and extreme weather linked to global warming, demanded a more ambitious text.

The European Union backed the group, having sought to build a consensus around its roadmap for push all major polluters to accept legally binding cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

"They're working. They're working hard. You have to give them time to work," said U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

But Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists lobby group said the talks could not drag on forever.

"We are getting to the point where they have to come up quickly with a deal and bring it to the plenary or suspend the discussions and have the secretariat say when they will resume again," he said.

Protesting for Climate Justice during the COP


Many delegates from poor nations were packing their bags on Saturday, having booked flights home. That could leave the countries most vulnerable to climate change without a voice when the plenary session reconvenes.

"Developing countries have very small delegations, two to three people... Many of us have already left," said Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, chairman of the Africa Group. "Many ministers are also gone from our group, so that creates a bit of a problem."

South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has struggled to draft a document that can both advance the fight against climate change and secure a broad consensus.

Changes put forward on Saturday disappointed developing states and the European Union, who complained they contained no reference to how the fight against climate change would be paid for and set no date by when cuts to emissions must be decided.

The discussion document also deferred decisions on cutting emissions from international aviation and shipping to next year.


The European Union has tried to rally support for its plan to set a date of 2015 at the latest for a new climate deal that would impose binding cuts on the world's biggest emitters of heat-trapping gases. Any deal could then come into force up to five years later.

Failure to reach a concrete accord in Durban would cast doubt over measures tentatively agreed by delegates. They include measures to protect forests and another to bring to life the Green Climate Fund, designed to help poor nations tackle global warming.

U.N. reports released in the last month show time is running out to restrict global warming to safe limits, generally accepted as within a 2 degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures. A warming planet has already intensified droughts and floods, increased crop failures and sea levels could rise to levels that would submerge several small island nations.

Many of their delegates wanted South Africa to do more to broker a deal that better protects the poor countries it pledged to help, and were disappointed the host did not show more leadership to push through a settlement.

"They have let agreements slip through their fingers. If we do reach any outcome that advances the process, it will not be because of South Africa's leadership. It will be despite South Africa," said one envoy.

Delegates struggle to craft new climate pact

By Juliet Eilperin,
Published: December 9
Source: Washington Post
Updated: Saturday, December 10, 4:05 AM

Inside Indaba talks

Optimism at the U.N. talks in Durban, South Africa, gave way to pessimism Saturday, as delegates bickered over how to launch a process that could forge a new global warming pact by 2015.

With time running out, a coalition of small island nations and the European Union floated the option of holding an interim meeting at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in late June to hammer out a meaningful compromise.

The proposal would “launch a work programme to identify and explore options to increase mitigation ambition” by countries so the world could take on steeper cuts in greenhouse gases linked to climate change. The U.N. Secretariat would publish a new technical paper by April that would summarize the current climate science, and then ministers would convene in Rio to craft a deal that could be approved by the end of 2012 in Qatar.

The last time U.N. delegates have taken such an unusual step, known as a “bis,” was a decade ago, after President George W. Bush announced he had no intention of submitting the Kyoto Protocol for Senate ratification. That meeting, in July 2001, ended up salvaging the 1997 climate pact.

“It’ll be a terrible shame if they can’t seize the opportunity to close the deal and launch the roadmap to a new agreement here in Durban,” Jennifer Haverkamp, international climate director at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, wrote in an e-mail. “But if they can’t, they should keep the momentum moving in the right direction and take another run at it sooner rather than later.”

The world’s three biggest greenhouse gas emitters — China, the United States and India, respectively — have resisted calls throughout the week to commit to a new legally binding climate treaty. China and India are not bound to emissions cuts under the current climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, while the United States did not ratify it. But these nations began to show some flexibility Friday.

Shortly before midnight in Durban, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s foreign minister and the conference’s president, published a new text that called for starting “a process to develop a Protocol or another legal instrument applicable to all Parties under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change” that would finish “no later than 2015.”

It remained unclear what exact legal obligations both industrialized and major developing countries would have under the proposal. But Jennifer Morgan, who directs the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute, wrote in an e-mail that if it was adopted, “this would be an important milestone for the international climate regime.”

The latest proposal came after the nations most imperiled by sea-level rise and other climate problems made it clear they had lost patience with the world’s major carbon emitters.
At one point Friday during a negotiating session, Ian Fry — who represents the low-lying island state of Tuvalu — observed that “we hear expressions of concern” about global warming, “yet some countries say they will not do anything until 2020. We see that as irresponsible.”

Fry suggested that India, Brazil and South Africa could lose the support of these vulnerable nations in their quests to become permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. “For us, this is a security issue,” he said, “and we would need to consider this in the context of the Security Council.”
As the talks dragged on, activists staged a sit-in at the conference center and directed their ire at the United States, chanting phrases including “Climate justice now!” and “U.S. out!” Many of them, including Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s international executive director, were thrown out of the conference and had their accreditation badges revoked

Before being removed, Naidoo said, “We are here to stand with the most vulnerable countries, whose basic survival needs have not been met by the men and women in that conference hall. . . . The United States delegation is right now organizing, line by line, the means by which United Nations member states will be eradicated from the map. We will not tolerate this.”

The State Department declined to comment on the protests or the ongoing negotiations.

The talks nearly fell apart in the middle of the day when Nkoana-Mashabane released a vaguely worded document that called on the conference’s 194 parties to “develop a legal framework applicable to all” after 2020 to address climate change.
That sparked resistance from delegates such as Selwin Hart, the lead finance negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States.
“We had to come up with something significantly more ambitious,” Hart said, adding that the delegates remained at the table because “there is an honest commitment that this is the place where important decisions on climate change should be made.”

But, Paul Bledsoe, a senior adviser at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center, questioned in an e-mail whether the “dysfunctional” process that came out of the United Nations should dictate American climate policy.
“The lesson is simple — climate leadership can and must spring from U.S. economic and security interests, not as a U.N. byproduct,” Bledsoe wrote.