Hopes fade for legally binding climate treaty

Draft text outlines step towards “framework” for carbon emissions cuts as US envoy accused of dragging feet in Durban.

Representatives from 194 nations attended the UN climate conference aimed at combating climate change [EPA]

World powers assembled at a United Nations climate conference have begun discussing a road map towards creating a fund to combat global warming and renewing key agreements mandating carbon emission cuts, but agreement over a legally binding treaty seems unlikely.

The draft text proposed on Friday at the 194-nation conference in Durban, South Africa, lays out the steps towards creating a “legal framework,” not a binding global warming treaty, meaning it will probably be rejected by a large bloc of nations led by the European Union, Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull reported from Durban.

EU ministers have begun revising the draft text, but any agreement that creates legal responsibility for carbon cuts will likely be unacceptable among an opposing bloc led by China, India and the United States, who collectively account for half of the world’s carbon emissions.

Agreement on a final global warming treaty of some kind has been the subject of last-minute negotiations in Durban, where the climate summit is set to end on Friday, since a vital clause of the Kyoto Protocol mandating carbon cuts expires at the end of 2012.

While the European Union has said it is open to signing an updated protocol, it wants assurances that the world’s biggest emitters will sign too. The current, non-binding Kyoto targets for emissions cuts expire in 2020. 

Our correspondent said countries are “stuck” in their discussions on whether or not to hold future talks on an updated protocol.

“At this point there are two groups very split. On the one side an unlikely alliance between the United States, Brazil, India and China – for different reasons resisting the idea of those talks and a future deal, on the other side the European Union and just about everyone else wants to get them off the ground as soon as possible,” he said.

US hesitant

Rich countries have pledged up to $100bn a year by 2020 to aid poor states most directly affected by rising global temperatures to adapt their economies and protect themselves from adverse weather.

But critics said it could remain a hollow shell unless there was also agreement on where the actual funds came from and how the money was spent.

The United States has haggled over the source of long-term financing and how to measure the needs of poorer countries.

When asked how much money could be available, US envoy Todd Stern said most donor countries were waiting for the fund to get up and running before making contributions.

Stern also rejected the accusation that the United States wanted to delay discussions on emission cuts until after 2020.

“It’s nonsense to suggest that what we are doing is proposing a kind of hiatus in dealing with climate change until after 2020,” Stern told reporters, adding that the US supported a “process” for a future agreement.

China, for instance, said that it wants the fund set up before it would make its domestic climate efforts binding under an international agreement from 2020.

Other important developing countries also wanted the fund’s design agreed to in Durban.

Delayed impact

Those who have worked on the fund for years said that agreeing to the concept of the fund was already a major achievement and that it would be easier to find cash once the institution was created.

“Since the US was the last major hold-out on the [Global Climate Fund], it looks like we’re in good shape to celebrate,” said Andrew Light, a technical expert who has worked on the fund for three years.

“In the last five weeks I’ve been shuttling around between parties trying to create space to resolve the differences between the US and other countries. There are still just a few issues to resolve but I’m confident they’ll get there,” he said.

Still, if the fund is agreed to in Durban, its impact may not be felt for many years.

“Even if the fund is established this week, then practical realities will likely limit its impact for a number of years,” Nick Robins, climate change analyst at HSBC, explained.
“It will take at least 12 months to set up and the appraisal process means it will probably not be spending until 2015.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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