China, EU hint at reduced scope for UN climate meeting

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 10:50am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

China teamed with the European Union and envoys from the bloc of 48 least developed countries to dial back expectations for United Nations climate talks, indicating that there probably aren’t any new promises for aid or cuts in greenhouse gases on the horizon.

China ruled out the idea of capping growth in fossil-fuel emissions from developing nations before 2020, while EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said she can’t provide specific details about how the bloc’s 27 countries plan to meet commitments for boosting aid to poorer nations.

The comments circumscribe potential agreements as delegates from more than 190 countries gather in Doha, Qatar, seeking to complete negotiations on two key issues while opening discussions on a third. The climate talks come as a UN agency warned that the US was headed for its warmest year on record and German researchers said sea levels are rising faster than expected because of fossil-fuel pollution.

“Partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply meters of sea-level rise, major changes in coastlines and inundation of low lying areas, with greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands,” Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assesses science for the UN, told delegates in Doha. “More rapid sea level rise on century timescales cannot be excluded.”

Developing nations blame industrial countries for failing to cut emissions quickly enough, threatening the goal of preventing average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times. The World Meteorological Organisation said this year was on track to be the ninth-hottest on record.

China ruled out imposing a cap in greenhouse-gas emissions in developing nations by 2020, because adopting such early targets would constrain economic growth.

The US and EU both have said they won’t go beyond current promises at this meeting. The US has pledged a 17 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 and the EU 20 per cent, levels that won’t be enough to meet the UN’s 2-degree goal.

“In order to eradicate poverty and try to improve living standards, we need to develop,” Su Wei, China’s lead negotiator at the talks, said in an interview in Doha with a group of journalists. “So of course the emissions will need to grow for a period of time. The direction of policy is very clear. It’s directed at peaking of emissions as early as possible.”

Su faulted the US for not doing enough to fight global warming and said he hoped President Barack Obama would do more in his second term. He joined with Brazil and the least developed countries group on November 27 in seeking a “roadmap” for how industrial nations will meet a commitment to boost climate aid to US$100 billion by 2020.

“New pledges are needed at least for the next three years, which are at least double the US$10 billion a year over the last three years,” Martin Kaiser, an international climate policy analyst at Greenpeace, said in an interview. “It has to scale up.”

Hedegaard told reporters in Brussels it “will not be doable” to provide details about specific plans to boost aid at the Doha meeting.

“We had our finance ministers discussing that this month and there’s a very clear recognition that we know that we have to come up with more money, we know that we have to bridge to the long-term financing,” Hedegaard said.

Aid is the linchpin holding the talks together, the incentive richer nations give to the poorer ones that enables them to push through changes at home, said Tim Gore, an analyst at the charity Oxfam who is observing the negotiations in Doha. Without the funds, momentum behind the talks may fizzle.

“The real risk is that finance in the next two weeks could crash this COP,” said Gore, who is observing the meeting, the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN’s 1992 treaty on climate change.

Envoys at the talks are focusing on extending the existing climate treaty that was agreed upon in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. It calls on industrial nations to cut emissions 5 per cent from 1990 levels by the end of this year.

The US never ratified it, and Japan, Russia, Canada and New Zealand have said they won’t make new commitments under the treaty after current ones expire next month. That leaves the EU and Australia as the main participants, accounting for less than 15 per cent of global emissions.

This year, the UN intends to finish negotiations on Kyoto and also on a second track of the talks known as Long Term Cooperative Action, or LCA, that’s designed to spell out emissions reduction efforts by nations that don’t have Kyoto targets. In its place, it will open a new strand of discussions aimed at drafting a new treaty by 2015 that would come into force by 2020.

“Everybody has to have the feeling that the LCA was closed in a satisfactory manner,” said Andre Correa do Lago, Brazil’s ambassador to the talks. “Everything has to be put somewhere. This is going to be a very delicate negotiation.”

Some negotiators expressed optimism that none of the disagreements are too big to hold up a resolution when the conference is due to conclude on December 7.

The European Commission’s lead negotiator said meetings had been scheduled for after 6pm, showing that “people are getting serious and starting to roll up their sleeves”.

“I think the more we talk about these issues and remind each other” of our goals, there “should be resolution”, Evans Njewa, a diplomat from Malawi who is lead negotiator for the group of least developed countries, said in an interview.

The Chinese envoy Su said: “We all know we cannot resolve all the issues in Doha. We need to make the necessary arrangements to ensure all those unresolved issues remain on the table.”