Durban climate conference at crucial stage as end of talks nears

Updated On: Dec 09, 2011

EU “roadmap” gains support, new agreement seen within reach

As the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban nears its conclusion, the EU and some of the world's poorest countries vulnerable to climate change impacts have launched a joint bid for a strong outcome for binding targets by 2015.

Chris Huhne, the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said on Thursday that the world is close to reaching a new agreement.

The EU said it was encouraged that its "roadmap" to legally binding commitments by 2015 to cut greenhouse gas emissions was gaining momentum at the talks. Further, the US said it backed the EU "roadmap" plan, though the ministers for small island states said it had not shown support in negotiations.

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said Ottawa had established a partnership with small island states under threat by rising sea levels caused by global warming. "We're not setting a hard target on this date...(but) 2015 would be a reasonable target to set to pull together any new climate change regime," Mr Kent told reporters. Days earlier Mr Kent had said that the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding accord on reducing carbon emissions, was "in the past".

With the EU pact gaining support from over 120 countries, the world’s largest polluters, China and India, could come under pressure to come on board. China has however shown promising signals, although scepticism remains over its position. India has insisted it is unfair to expect them to slash emissions when it could hamper economic development and poverty reduction. Brazil, an emerging economy that plays a significant role in climate negotiations, also said there was convergence on a deal in Durban.

The alliance between the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), facilitated by Denmark and Gambia, includes over half the world's governments. Other countries in Africa and Latin America also back its goals.

This show of unity between developed and developing countries is possibly the first in the history of the UN climate convention, and marks a new dynamic in the often fractured process.

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. AOSIS and the LDCs say that is too late as such a plan will most likely result in mean global temperatures increasing by more than 1.5C, wreaking havoc with climate change disasters such as drought and sea-level rises.

Earlier in a news conference, US envoy Todd Stern surprised observers by backing the EU's proposed "roadmap", and said there was "misconception" that the US wanted to delay action on climate change until after 2020. However, it was unclear what timetable he had in mind.

Caution on outcome, but hopes remain

Nevertheless, some delegates cautioned that the talks could still collapse on the final day as the dates and precise legal form of a treaty still have to be thrashed out. An EU source said US negotiators still opposed specific targets because they had no mandate to sign up to a legally binding deal. Previously, the US said it supported discussions that would lead to an emissions reduction agreement, even one that was legally binding, but would not commit to set dates or a set outcome. Poor states were also sceptical of the US announced support for the EU “roadmap”.

Mr Chris Huhne said the EU was not prepared to accept a deal in Durban at any price, saying any agreement must have substance. "We're not interested in just papering over the cracks. We're interested in something that really does provide us with a roadmap to a single overarching global agreement which delivers a solution to climate change," he told reporters.

The negotiations became increasingly tense over the past ten days with accusations by African countries against developed nations of “chequebook diplomacy” and hecklers thrown out of proceedings. The last high profile attempt at a deal in Copenhagen in 2009 ended in the breakdown of talks.

Despite caution, hopes remain for talks to bear fruit. Mr Todd Stern said he is confident the Green Climate Fund will move forward. “It has made a lot of progress,” he said at a briefing yesterday. The envoys last year agreed to establish the fund that will help raise an unspecified portion of the $100 billion of annual aid for climate projects, to be implemented by 2020.

Envoys began to make rapid progress in talks when the South African hosts called on ministers from individual nations to take charge of different sections of the talks. South Africa also organized informal gatherings of leaders to discuss the way forward for the talks outside the structures of the UN meeting process.

Jimmy Manyi, South Africa’s government spokesman said yesterday, “We are very optimistic there will be an agreement to take us forward… We do not envisage a situation where we have a deadlock.”

At this point, ministers must still debate technical matters such as how to implement an extension and political ones like the exact legal nature of any future agreement. Some of the most controversial issues have been postponed to next year’s meeting in Qatar. Ministers have until Friday to reach an agreement, but talks are expected to last through the night into Saturday.

Report: Alliance pushes for climate deal (BBC, 8 Dec 2011)

Report: Support grows for Durban climate deal (Reuters, 8 Dec 2011)

Report: Durban Climate Change conference: world close to deal on global warming(Telegraph, 8 Dec 2011)

Report: Climate Talks Closer to Deal on $100B Aid Plan (Bloomberg, 9 Dec 2011)

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