10 Dec 2011

Durban UN climate talks falter in extra time

Negotiations at the UN climate change conference in South Africa continue into Saturday – but prospects are fading for any internationally binding deal before the Kyoto Protocol expires.

With many delegates due to head home, ministerial negotiations dragged into Saturday afternoon – but there is a strong chance the meeting will end without any real decisions.

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

Wasted opportunity warning

If there is no agreement, it raises 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.

“I don’t give up,” said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “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.”

The talks boil down to a tussle between the United States, which wants all polluters to be held to the same legal standard on emission cuts, and China and India, which want to ensure their fast-growing economies are not shackled.

The United States, the world’s second worst polluter, is also wary of signing anything which makes a legal commitment to emission cuts, aware of the huge financial costs of doing so.

Lack of ambition

The European Union has supported island nations and developing states under threat from rising sea levels and extreme weather, who want any concluding agreement to be more ambitious.

It has sought to build a consensus around its roadmap to get a new plan to tackle global warming in place by 2015. This would legally bind all countries to abide by emissions targets.

However, changes proposed on Saturday disappointed both developing states and the EU, who complained they contained no reference to how the fight against climate change will be paid for and set no date by when cuts to emissions must be decided.