Climate Talks Now ‘in the Balance,’ But Some Hints of Progress

By | October 20, 2009

Prospects for a new U.N. climate pact in December remained in the balance after talks among big emitters on Monday but with signs of action by Brazil, India and Australia.

“It’s more do-able today than yesterday,” British energy and climate secretary Ed Miliband said at the close of a two-day meeting of 17 emitters that account for about 80 percent of world greenhouse gases. “It remains in the balance in my view”.

Todd Stern, Washington’s climate envoy who co-hosted the meeting, echoed hopes of a deal despite sluggish progress in 190-nation talks meant to end with a new pact to fight global warming in Copenhagen in December. “More progress needs to be made but we think that something can be done,” he said.

Both he and Miliband said there was no “Plan B”, for example to delay Copenhagen until 2010.

Earlier, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged world leaders to go to Copenhagen for the Dec. 7-18 meeting, up to now intended as a gathering for environment ministers. [See IJ web site –].

“Leaders must engage directly to break the impasse,” he told the talks. “I’ve said I’ll go to Copenhagen, and I’m encouraging them to make the same commitment.”

Talks are bogged down in disputes between industrialized and developing countries over how to share out curbs on emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels. Just one week of formal talks remains before Copenhagen, in Barcelona in early November.

The U.N. talks launched in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007 are stuck on how big carbon cuts recession-hit rich countries should make by 2020 and how much they should pay developing countries to fight global warming.

Away from the meeting, Brazil, Australia and India took steps that could help inch towards a deal.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that Brazil wanted to forge a common position among all Amazon basin countries for Copenhagen and was considering inviting presidents of all Amazon states to discuss the issue on Nov. 26.

Brazil is considering freezing its total greenhouse gas emissions at 2005 levels.

In Canberra, Australian Climate Minister Penny Wong said the government would bring carbon trade legislation back to parliament on Thursday and will demand a vote on the controversial laws before the end of November.

The conservative opposition on Sunday demanded changes to the scheme, already rejected once by the upper house, to avert a second defeat that would give Prime Minister Kevin Rudd an excuse to call a possible snap election.

The government, which is ahead in opinion polls and could benefit from an election, wants to start carbon trading from July 2011, putting a price on greenhouse gas and helping curb emissions in one of world’s highest per capita polluters.

And an Indian newspaper said Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh wanted New Delhi to accept curbs on the country’s rising carbon emissions, dropping insistence that they should hinge on new finance and technology from rich nations.

“We should be pragmatic and constructive, not argumentative and polemical,” The Times of India quoted Ramesh as writing in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India, China and other big developing countries fear they will be hard hit by climate change and say it is in their national interest to limit the effects of more extreme droughts, floods, rising seas and melting glaciers that feed major rivers.

A big sticking point for Copenhagen is that the United States, the only industrialized country outside the current Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions, is struggling to pass carbon-cutting laws by December.

“I don’t want to speculate about what happens if it doesn’t go all the way,” Stern said.

And in Cape Town, South Africa pointed to one area of soaring emissions — next year’s soccer World Cup. Emissions would leap almost tenfold from a 2006 benchmark set by Germany, partly because air travel would be added to the count.

(Writing by Alister Doyle, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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