Source: The Brisbane Times (Bloomberg)
Date: 6 December, 2012
President Barack Obama’s envoy to UN global warming talks signaled flexibility on paving the way for a new treaty by 2015, saying he’s open to a discussion on the issue of fairness over how nations tackle climate change.
Todd Stern, the State Department official leading the delegation at a United Nations climate conference in Doha, also acknowledged today that the US has more work to do on reducing fossil fuel emissions.
The comments, three days before meeting is scheduled to conclude, addressed two of the three most difficult issues that divide more than 190 nations working toward a pact to limit greenhouse gases, starting in 2020.
“It’s a big shift,” said Alden Meyer, who follows the talks for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in an interview today. “The tone was positive and the offer was positive. The issue he didn’t touch on was finance, and unless there’s a resolution on that they’re going to say the US is just talking.”
Stern, speaking to a gathering of environment ministers, said he was open to a discussion on the principle of “equity” and a provision in existing global warming agreements calling for “common but differentiated responsibilities,” or CBDR.
Those concepts seek to ensure that all nations are treated fairly in reining in greenhouse gases, taking into account their wealth and historical pollution rates. Richer countries are concerned that developing countries hide behind the principles to avoid fossil-fuel reductions.
The issue has been a sticking point for almost two decades. It created the division between industrial nations, which were required under the Kyoto Protocol to cut fossil-fuel emissions, and developing ones that to this day have no mandatory targets. Since that treaty was adopted in 1997, China surpassed the US as the world’s biggest polluter.
The US has been pushing for CBDR references to be removed from negotiation texts at the talks. China, India and Brazil lead developing nations saying CBDR is a principle that was set down in the original 1992 treaty that started the climate talks and that the US ratified.
“I did want to send a signal that the United States isn’t trying to say we don’t want to discuss equity or we don’t want to discuss CBDR because that’s not the case,” Stern told reporters in Doha following his speech to delegates.
He also said the US will go further to combat climate change. Developing countries are demanding steeper emissions cuts from the US as a precondition before they take on their own targets. The current US goal is to reduce greenhouse gases about 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, a program that officials have ruled out changing.
“As president Obama said just a few weeks ago, we need to do more and we intend to do more,” Stern told the delegates.
Work toward a 2015 climate deal almost collapsed last year in Durban, South Africa, after countries led by India objected to moving forward without greater assurances that poor nations won’t be subject to the same sort of requirements under a treaty as wealthy economies, which are historically the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
At the current negotiations in Doha, India repeated its stance that equity and CBDR must remain at the forefront of the talks. “Equity remains central to the discussion on climate change,” lead Indian negotiator Mira Mehrishi said in a Nov. 29 news briefing. Further, CBDR must apply to a new accord, she said.
Stern suggested the US has more flexibility in dealing with the issue of CBDR, saying, “I think people to some extent were misinterpreting where we were, which is not trying to avoid a conversation about these things. I wanted to make it clear that we are ready, willing and able” to have a discussion on the issues.
Stern said not doing so would mean failure in the attempt to get a new climate agreement by 2015.
“We have to succeed,” he told delegates in Doha.
Left unsaid is how the US plans to bridge the gap with developing nations on finance. Three years ago, industrial nations pledged to provide $US100 billion a year in aid to developing nations for projects that combat climate change. The richer nations have met a target of delivering about $US30 billion in so-called fast-start funds by the end of this year, though they haven’t given details on how they’ll meet the end-of-decade target. Developing nations want a road map sketching those plans.
“The core issue is finance,” Xie Zhenhua, the lead envoy for China at the talks, told reporters today. “If we can solve finance issues, it will create a very good foundation for the solving of other issues.”