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Climate talks move towards limp end

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  • Published 11.12.10

Cancun (Mexico), Dec. 10: The world climate summit which cost nearly $80 million and spewed 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere appears heading for closure with little more than a weak statement after two weeks of negotiations.

As the summit moved into its penultimate day, ministers and negotiators from more than 200 countries huddled to finalise the text of a draft that countries will examine during the final plenary to be held Saturday morning.

The draft is expected to lack teeth required to fight climate change as it would seek to accommodate “all voices” and ensure a “balance” that countries are demanding. The draft, according to sources, will contain near-identical language adopted in the Copenhagen Accord unveiled at the 2009 UN climate conference.

Just as the Copenhagen document, the Cancun draft recognises that deep cuts in global emissions are required to keep the rise in the global average temperature below 2°C.

However, the draft for the first time has decided to set a target of reducing global emissions by at least 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050. It will also call on developed countries to take the lead in undertaking robust aggregate and individual reductions in emissions for the mid-term and long-term and provide technology and finance to developing countries.

But climate change analysts tracking the conference negotiations have said there is still scepticism over whether even such a weak statement would be acceptable to all the countries.

“There is still some discord on key issues such as adaptation, technology transfer, finance and forestry,” said a senior negotiator from a developing country with large greenhouse gas emissions.

The US is not exactly playing ball with green funding, African countries are not comfortable with some forestry issues, and Japan, Russia and Canada are opposing the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty that requires only industrialised countries to take on legally binding commitments to cut emissions, the negotiator said. A source at the conference said “there is a feeling that the US, China or Bolivia could obstruct the unanimous acceptance of the draft”.

“Yes, there are still contentious issues, but we are working to develop proper language to satisfy the most,” said India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who’s been unofficially named a “friend of the chair”, to play a fire-fighting role.

Ramesh, had yesterday signalled a shift in India’s long-entrenched position in climate talks by stating that all countries would have to, eventually, accept legally binding curbs on emissions. “I have not agreed to any legally binding emission cuts at this stage, which was my cabinet mandate,” he said. “However, it is true I have shifted the goalpost by talking about the need to accept binding commitments in an appropriate legal form.”

“Firstly, this legal form can be anything — the Conference of Parties (the UN climate convention) to domestic laws,” Ramesh said. “Secondly, if we do not start talking about something that most countries are demanding, we run the risk of being isolated and things being imposes on us after some time rather than handling the issue on our own terms,” he said.

In a statement issued in New Delhi today, Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition, Rajya Sabha, said Ramesh had categorically stated in Parliament last year that India’s first “non-negotiable” was that it would under no circumstances accept legally binding emission reduction cut.

Jaitley said Ramesh has "broken alliances" that had been built through years of hard work. "The Chinese representative still remained confined to voluntary adaptation and mitigation actions and not legally-binding cuts," Jaitley said.

The draft for the Cancun statement also states — as did the Copenhagen Accord last year — that all countries should cooperate to achieve a peaking of global emissions.

But it also recognises that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries bearing in mind that economic development and poverty eradication are the "first and overriding priorities of the developing countries."

An Indian climate change analyst in Cancun said many countries appear to want a legally-binding instrument to emerge at next year’s UN climate conference to be held in Durban, South Africa.

"No one really knows what’s going to be the content of that instrument yet," the analyst said. "But there are strong views that by the end of 2011, the world should have another treaty in place." The draft prepared for the Cancun statement contains language to create a fund of about $100 billion a year for developing countries threatened by altered weather patterns. This amount would be used to give them technology to shift from petrol-based growth to clean energy-powered growth. Sources said the draft will have provisions for international scrutiny of emissions curbs by different countries.

The BJP today decried Ramesh’s statement yesterday saying he “has compromised India’s interests”.