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Thread: At Climate Talks a Familiar Standoff Between U.S. and China

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    At Climate Talks a Familiar Standoff Between U.S. and China

    At Climate Talks, a Familiar Standoff Between U.S. and China

    Published: December 7, 2011

    DURBAN, South Africa — China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has once again emerged as the biggest puzzle at international climate change talks, sending ambiguous signals about the role it intends to play in future negotiations. This week, the nation’s top climate envoy said that China would be open to signing a formal treaty limiting emissions after 2020 — but laid down conditions for doing so that are unlikely ever to be met.

    China’s lead negotiator at the United Nations climate change talks here, Xie Zhenhua, said that China was prepared to enter into a legally binding agreement after current voluntary programs expire at the end of the decade, seemingly a major step. China has always contended that because of its rapid economic growth and the persistent poverty of millions of its citizens, it cannot be bound by the same emissions standards as advanced industrialized nations.

    Mr. Xie outlined five conditions under which China would consider joining such a treaty as a full partner, the major one being that China and other rapidly growing economies must be treated differently from the so-called rich countries. But that has been a deal-breaker for the United States for years and is the central reason that the Senate refused to even consider ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 agreement whose goal, still unmet, is to limit global greenhouse gas emissions.

    “These conditions are not new,” Mr. Xie acknowledged at a briefing here where more than 190 nations are gathered for the 17th annual conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “These have been negotiated for the past 20 years.

    “What is most important so far is to implement existing commitments and review efforts undertaken by the parties, and after that we can think about what should be done after 2020 and beyond.”

    Todd D. Stern, the American climate change envoy, said that the United States would be happy to discuss a formal treaty and then spelled out his conditions, which also were not new and appeared to rule out any sort of deal like that envisioned by Mr. Xie.

    For a legally binding agreement to take hold, “it’s going to be absolutely critical that it applies to all the major players, and China obviously is one of them,” Mr. Stern said at a briefing.

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    Alliance pushes for climate deal

    By Richard Black
    Environment correspondent, BBC News, Durban

    The EU and some of the world's poorest nations have launched a joint bid for a strong outcome at the UN climate talks.

    Ministers from rich and poor countries stood shoulder to shoulder at a news conference urging big emitters such as China and the US to move to a deal.

    The US said it backed the EU plan for a "roadmap" to a binding outcome, though small island states' ministers said it had not shown support in negotiations.

    Observers say the outcome of the talks is too close to call.

    The alliance between the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), brokered by Denmark and Gambia, covers more than half the world's governments.

    Some other countries in Africa and Latin America also support its aims.

    The very public show of co-operation between developed and developing countries is possibly unprecented in the UN climate convention's history, and marks a new dynamic in the often fractured process.

    "We're very happy to have with us the EU and the Least Developed Countries in an effort to inject new momentum into the negotiations," said Danish climate minister Martin Lidegaard.

    "Our united goal is that we live up to a maximum 2C increase in temperature, if possible 1.5C, and we all know that we need to act now if that's to be possible."

    His Gambian counterpart, forestry and environment minister Jato Sillah, said that for the LDCs, keeping the global temperature rise down was a matter of survival.

    "We thank the EU for taking a common ground initiative for all countries to come on board and ensure that we have a decision from Durban.

    "We must have a decision - we must show the world that we are willing to take our role and our responsibilities [seriously]."

    Head for success
    The alliance is looking for three key things: continuation of the Kyoto Protocol in meaningful form, fulfilment of pledges on finance, and an agreed mandate to negotiate a new legally-binding agreement as soon as possible that will constrain emissions by all the big players.

    Protesters accuse US politicians of obstructing progress towards a legally binding agreement
    The US and a number of big developing countries including Brazil, China and India want any negotiations to start in 2015 at the earliest, and not come into effect until after 2020.

    For Aosis and the LDCs, that is too late, as it will almost certainly mean global temperatures increasing by more than 1.5C and potentially damaging consequences such as drought and sea-level rise.

    Brazil's environment Minister Izabella Teixiera told BBC News that decisions on further emission cuts should be made after the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14.

    But she left open the possibility of movement.

    "Everybody wants success, everybody wants to work together... so we are flexible," she said.

  3. #3
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    Climate talks failed unfortunately.

    P.S. looks like I spoke too soon
    Last edited by Havakasha; 12-11-2011 at 09:34 AM.

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    Durban climate change conference 2011
    Durban climate conference stalemate pushes talks into extra time
    • Old rifts healed at Durban, but new fault lines emerge
    • Kyoto agreement under threat without UN deal

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    John Vidal and Fiona Harvey
    The Guardian, Friday 9 December 2011
    Article history

    An Oxfam activist pretends to eat coal in a protest outside the Durban talks. Photograph: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP
    China, India, Africa and the EU were at loggerheads on Friday night, pushing UN climate talks into extra time on Saturday as 194 countries attempted to reach a global deal to prevent dangerous global warming.

    There were signs of movement on all sides, according to people in the talks in Durban, with compromises possible but no final breakthrough. Some long-standing rifts between the developing and developed countries, and between the EU and the US, appeared bridged.

    A new text, seen by the Guardian, was introduced at midnight and went some way to easing the fears of developing countries that rich countries could wriggle out of their obligations.

    Governments are wrangling over what form any future agreement on global warming should take, following a disappointingly weak agreement in Copenhagen in 2009 and slow progress at Cancun last year.

    Also at stake in Durban was the future of the Kyoto protocol, the only existing legal treaty forcing rich countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. If the talks collapse, the protocol will be in effect dead after its current provisions expire at the end of next year.

    Discord was in the air as some nations wanted to strengthen the proposals while others wanted to keep them vague. An early draft was slammed by China's chief negotiator, Su Wei, and by Seyni Nato, spokesman for the Africa group at the talks, who both said they feared it could mean the end of the Kyoto protocol.

    Su told the Guardian: "The G77 [group of more than 100 developing countries] could not take this [proposal] as the basis for discussion. This is killing the Kyoto protocol. They want to finish the Kyoto protocol."

    The EU on Friday night said it was committed to continuing the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012. However, as the price of this offer, it wanted China and other nations to agree a "roadmap" that would see negotiations begin immediately with a view to completing a new treaty by 2015 to come into force in 2020. The EU also wants any such new agreement to be legally binding, though other countries want a weaker commitment.

    The issue of whether emissions cuts should be legally binding or voluntary pledges has dogged these talks for at least a decade.

    The text seen by the Guardian talked of a "legal instrument applicable to all parties", a phrase understood to be acceptable to the US and the EU, though it is weaker than a "legally binding" commitment. But the text did not contain a deadline for countries to ratify any new agreement, a key concern in the earlier drafts.

    EU member states, with a handful of allies including Norway and Switzerland, are the only developed countries prepared to carry on with the Kyoto protocol. The US has always rejected the 1997 pact, and Japan, Canada and Russia have declared they will not take on new emissions targets under the protocol beyond 2012.

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    U.N. Climate Conference Approves Landmark Deal
    ARTHUR MAX 12/11/11 07:10 AM ET

    DURBAN, South Africa — A U.N. climate conference reached a hard-fought agreement Sunday on a far-reaching program meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change.

    The 194-party conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would ensure that countries will be legally bound to carry out any pledges they make. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest.

    The deal doesn't explicitly compel any nation to take on emissions targets, although most emerging economies have volunteered to curb the growth of their emissions.

    Currently, only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Those commitments expire next year, but they will be extended for at least another five years under the accord adopted Sunday – a key demand by developing countries seeking to preserve the only existing treaty regulating carbon emissions.

    The proposed Durban Platform offered answers to problems that have bedeviled global warming negotiations for years about sharing the responsibility for controlling carbon emissions and helping the world's poorest and most climate-vulnerable nations cope with changing forces of nature.

    The United States was a reluctant supporter, concerned about agreeing to join an international climate system that likely would find much opposition in the U.S. Congress.

    "This is a very significant package. None of us likes everything in it. Believe me, there is plenty the United States is not thrilled about," said U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern. But the package captured important advances that would be undone if it is rejected, he told the delegates.

    Sunday's deal also set up the bodies that will collect, govern and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year for poor countries. Other documents in the package lay out rules for monitoring and verifying emissions reductions, protecting forests, transferring clean technologies to developing countries and scores of technical issues.

    U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the deal represents "an important advance in our work on climate change."

    But the deal's language left some analysts warning that the wording left huge loopholes for countries to avoid tying their emissions to legal constraints, and noted that there was no mention of penalties. "They haven't reached a real deal," said Samantha Smith, of WWF International. "They watered things down so everyone could get on board."

    Environmentalists criticized the package – as did many developing countries in the debate – for failing to address what they called the most urgent issue, to move faster and deeper in cutting carbon emissions.

    "The good news is we avoided a train wreck," said Alden Meyer, recalling predictions a few days ago of a likely failure. "The bad news is that we did very little here to affect the emissions curve."

    Scientists say that unless those emissions – chiefly carbon dioxide from power generation and industry – level out and reverse within a few years, the Earth will be set on a possibly irreversible path of rising temperatures that lead to ever greater climate catastrophes.

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    Nations Chart New Course on Climate change
    China, India, U.S. Take Steps Towards Emissions Deal


    DURBAN, South Africa—Major industrial and emerging economies set a course to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions over the next decade and beyond, breaking a logjam between China, India and the U.S. that has stymied international climate talks.

    Following negotiations that stretched past dawn on Sunday, two days after the two-week United Nations-sponsored meeting was scheduled to end, delegates from almost 200 countries agreed to draft a new global emissions treaty by 2015.

    Under the agreement, most industrial nations currently bound to reduce emissions under the so-called Kyoto Protocol will extend their commitments beyond their current expiration in 2012. Many are European Union members already bound by EU law to make cuts that will satisfy the Kyoto requirements.

    Even though Russia, Canada and Japan earlier vowed not recommit to Kyoto, they signed onto the new agreement that will take effect later.

    China, the U.S. and India—which rank as the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases, none of whom are covered by Kyoto—pledged to join the pact that would take effect in 2020.

    But environmentalists and representatives from smaller countries were underwhelmed by deal, saying the urgency of the problem of climate change demanded a shorter time line for action. These people also said the deal could be easily ignored by major economies responsible for mass emissions.

    "This is a very bad agreement," said Venezuela's chief negotiator, Claudia Salerno, who urged fellow negotiators to push for a more robust deal when they meet again.

    When the Kyoto treaty was drafted in 1997 to reduce emissions in the industrial world, China and India weren't required to participate because they weren't yet considered major industrial nations. The U.S. helped design the agreement, but Congress failed to ratify it precisely because those major developing countries didn't have to check their emissions as well.

    After nearly 20 consecutive hours of negotiations, China and India nearly derailed the new 2020 pact early Sunday by refusing to accept a strict "legal instrument," to police emissions cuts. Instead, the version of the agreement that emerged contained the phrase "legal force"—a broader term that is seen as offering governments more leeway to identify how to curb emissions.

    Separately, envoys agreed to establish a fund to guide the flow of much of what they hoped would be $100 billion in annual pledges by 2020 to mitigate the impact of climate change in poor countries.

    Delegates will spend the next four years hammering out the specifics of their 2020 deal, with chief negotiatorsmeeting next year in Qatar.

    The pact creates a sliver of common ground among different nations committed to checking climate change. But taken together, the two weeks of meetings in Durban highlighted the monumental challenge of any future treaty passing political muster at home.

    China and India have long argued it would be unfair to curb rapid development that is helping eradicate poverty for the sake of offsetting emissions that rich nations produced over decades without consequence.

    "I'm wondering if there is an effort here to shift the burden of this entire climate-change problem on countries who have not contributed to this entire issue," India's environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, said in an impassioned statement to the entire conference, as she rejected an unqualified binding deal. "Please don't hold us hostage."

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    Eugene Robinson
    Opinion Writer
    Reason to smile about the Durban climate conference

    By Eugene Robinson, Monday, December 12, 8:20 PM

    I’m inclined to believe that the apparent result of the climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, might turn out to be a very big deal. Someday. Maybe.

    After the meeting ended Sunday, initial reaction ranged from “Historic Breakthrough: The Planet Is Saved” to “Tragic Failure: The Planet Is Doomed.

    My conclusion is that for now, at least, the conceptual advance made in Durban is as good as it gets.

    This advance is, potentially, huge: For the first time, officials of the nations that are the biggest carbon emitters — China, the United States and India — have agreed to negotiate legally binding restrictions.

    Under the old Kyoto Protocol framework, which for now remains largely in effect, rapidly industrializing nations refused to be constricted by limits that would stunt their development. The United States declined to sign on to the Kyoto agreement as long as China, India, Brazil and other rising economic giants got a pass.

    This meant that while European nations worked to meet emissions targets — or, in some cases, pretended to do so — the most important sources of carbon were unconstrained. When Kyoto was adopted, China was well behind the United States as an emitter; now it’s far ahead. India recently passed Russia to move into third place.

    The Durban talks seemed likely to go nowhere until the Chinese delegate, Xie Zhenhua, announced that Beijing was willing to consider a legally binding framework. With China now responsible for fully 23 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, this was an enormous step forward.

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