Global climate change talks go down to the wire in Cancun

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am

Key climate change players intensified their jostling and bargaining for favourable positions in the final hours of global talks in Cancun, Mexico. The outcome hung in the balance despite mounting appeals for compromise from major emitters of greenhouse gases.

As the UN talks went into their final day, bitter wrangling and backroom consultations dragged out negotiations late into the night. Rumours of secret drafts of a deal frayed the nerves of delegates.

India reportedly offered to advance the stalled process by agreeing to consider a binding pact on climate change, but the talks suffered another blow as Russia joined Japan in opposing an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, upped the ante, saying the Cancun talks must make a decision on whether to extend the Kyoto pact beyond 2012, when its initial phase runs out.

On the contentious issue of transparency, a key concern for the United States, China declined US requests to discuss in Cancun specifics about its implementation of pledges to reduce emissions. At a briefing for environmental groups, China's top climate change official, Xie Zhenhua, said the transparency issue was open for discussion but details should be deliberated after Cancun.

Xie discussed the transparency issue with US counterpart Dr Todd Stern late on Thursday night.

Europe's top climate-change official, Connie Hedegaard, was also concerned about the lack of specifics in China's transparency pledges.

The Indian move, announced by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on the sidelines of the talks, was seen as a departure from Delhi's stance up till now. India is the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. Ramesh said 'all countries must take binding commitments under appropriate legal form' to control their emissions of greenhouse gases.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, he said India could not afford to be left in a corner as countries - including South Africa, Brazil, those from the G77 group of developing nations and island nations - made a strong case for legally binding agreement for all countries. Ramesh said there was clearly a move to put pressure on India and China to agree to a legally binding agreement and his statement could help expand the country's negotiating space, helping it attain global leadership.

India's government has long sided with China in saying it will not accept binding emissions reduction targets in any new climate deal since to do so would harm its economy and hinder its efforts to lift millions out of poverty.

Analysts and the Indian press did not think Ramesh made a significant concession because he hinted at domestically binding targets rather than legally binding ones under an international treaty as Western countries have demanded. Still, his statement caused a stir in Cancun.

China, apparently uncomfortable with the talk of legally binding commitments, clarified a report about its acceptance of discussions on whether its domestic pledges should come under the international framework.

When asked about India's policy shift, Xie looked worried and said he needed to consult with Ramesh.

Talks on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty on emissions reduction, appear deadlocked. Russia stated plainly for the first time that it would not support extending it, as Japan continued its opposition to doing so on the grounds that the US and China were exempted from carbon cuts.