U.S. Says Climate Talks Fail to Make Headway

The United States said on Wednesday U.N. climate talks were making less progress than hoped because of a rift over poorer nations’ emission goals, and that other avenues might be needed to tackle climate change.

Negotiators from 177 governments are meeting this week in the north Chinese city of Tianjin trying to agree on the shape of the successor to the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the key U.N. treaty on fighting global warming, which expires in 2012.

“There is less agreement than one might have hoped to find at this stage,” said Jonathan Pershing, the United States Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change and lead U.S. negotiator in Tianjin. “It’s going to require a lot of work to get to some significant outcome by the end of this week, which then leads us into a significant outcome in Cancun,” he told reporters, referring to the main round of talks at the end of the year in Mexico.

Fraught climate negotiations last year failed to agree on a binding treaty and climaxed in a bitter meeting in Copenhagen, which produced a non-binding accord that later recorded the emissions pledges of participant countries.

More than 110 nations that backed the accord also agreed to limit warming to below two degrees Celsius but the United Nations says the pledges aren’t tough enough to meet this goal.

Developing nations say wealthy countries need to do more because they’ve emitted the bulk of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Fearing deadlock, the United Nations and Mexico have been pushing for agreement on less contentious issues such as a scheme to protect carbon-absorbing rainforests, a deal to share clean energy technology with poorer nations and to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.

But Pershing repeated the U.S. stance on wanting a full package to be agreed. “The consequences of not having an agreement coming out of Cancun are things that we have to worry about,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that things may not happen; it may mean that we don’t use this process exclusively as the way to move forward.”

Underscoring the lack of trust between rich and poorer nations, he pointed to the need for big developing nations such as China, India and Brazil to commit to legally binding emissions reduction obligations as part of a new treaty.

The Kyoto Protocol only commits nearly 40 industrialized nations to meet binding targets in the pact’s first phase till 2012.

China is the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter after the United States, India is number 3. Both countries, which have pledged a range of emissions reduction steps under the Copenhagen accord, want Kyoto to be extended into a second period to make sure rich nations don’t wriggle out of taking climate action.

Pershing said poorer nations’ pledges under the accord must be internationally verifiable, something that was agreed in the final hours of last year’s turbulent climate talks in Denmark.

Many negotiators at the Tianjin meeting echoed frustration at the slow pace, while some said that was an inevitable part of such a complex discussion.

“Things are going very slowly,” said a delegate from a large African country, who spoke on condition he was not identified. “It’s like we’re going round and round in a whirlpool.”

Thilmeeza Hussain, an official from the Maldives at the talks, said smaller, vulnerable countries worried that big emitters could use shifting away from the Kyoto Protocol to weaken their emissions-cutting commitments. “If it’s a two-track process, how can we create a legally binding treaty so that they don’t jump ship?” she told Reuters.

(Writing by David Fogarty)