Guarded optimism as at climate talks

The world’s climate negotiators worked into early Friday morning amid guarded hopes of making progress, as a new willingness by India to accept binding action brightened the mood.

Host Mexico asked the envoys from more than 190 nations to meet throughout the night to hammer out an agreement meant to find building blocks to a global package on how to fight rising temperatures blamed for growing disasters.

“A broad and balanced package of decisions is indeed within our grasp,” Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa told the two-week conference, amid predictions it may run beyond its scheduled closing time of Friday evening.

Negotiators in the Mexican resort of Cancún pointed to headway on issues including how to administer billions of dollars in aid to poor nations. But talks remained stuck on the key controversy over the future of the landmark Kyoto Protocol.

After last year’s widely criticised Copenhagen summit, Mexico has looked to make only incremental progress. One snag in Copenhagen was the refusal by China and India to accept calls for legally binding action, with the emerging powers saying that rich nations bear historic responsibility for climate change.

But India’s Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, offered a shift, saying that his country was ready to look at a future binding deal — although not yet.

“All countries must take binding commitments under an appropriate legal form,” Ramesh told AFP.

He said India would wait to see the shape of a future agreement “because we don’t know the content”, including whether countries would face penalties for non-compliance or a monitoring system.

“So let’s wait. Let us talk about it,” Ramesh said.

The Kyoto Protocol requires emissions cuts only of wealthy nations — known as Annex I. With a new treaty looking increasingly distant, the European Union has led calls to extend Kyoto beyond the obligations’ expiry date at the end of 2012.

Japan has led opposition to the idea, saying Kyoto is unfair by covering only 30% of emissions and not the top two polluters. China has no obligations as a developing nation, while the United States — technically Annex I — rejected the treaty in 2001.

“It is like the Annex I countries are the soccer players and the non-Annex I countries and the United States are spectators in the stand. However we work and score … we are criticised,” Japanese official Akira Yamada said.

“We would like all the major emitters to go down to this playing field,” he told reporters.

Yamada voiced hope that all sides would come up with acceptable language and predicted that the talks could run into Saturday.

Russia, a major exporter of fossil fuels targeted in climate plans, also stated flatly that it would not take part in a new round under Kyoto. — AFP

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