More than 190 nations on Friday considered “deep cuts” in emissions to hold back climate change in a hard-fought package that would pave the way for billions of dollars in aid to poor countries.
After two weeks of talks in Mexico and a virtually non-stop final 24 hours, sleep-deprived envoys studied a draft proposal that leaves open an extension of the landmark Kyoto Protocol, whose main requirements expire in two years.
“We have seen remarkable progress,” said Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, the host of the UN-led conference in the beach resort of Cancún. “We must continue ahead. We must recognise that these drafts represent real and very substantive progress,” Espinosa told the envoys, who welcomed her efforts with an unusual standing ovation.
Faced with scientists’ warnings that global warming is already taking a toll, the draft calls for “urgent action” to cap temperature rises at no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The proposal “recognises that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science”. Scientists blame such mostly industrial emissions for global warming.
The accord at last year’s chaotic summit in Copenhagen included similar language, but it was never approved by the full UN-led talks.
Haunted by the lessons of Copenhagen, Mexico has focused on incremental progress rather than an ambitious full climate treaty, which could come back up for discussion at the next major talks in late 2011 in South Africa.
Faced with the growing prospect that a new climate treaty is distant, the European Union has led calls to extend the Kyoto Protocol, whose obligations on wealthy countries to cut emissions run out at the end of 2012.
Japan adamantly opposed a new Kyoto round, pointing out that the treaty named after its ancient capital covers only 30% of global emissions because top polluters including China and the United States are not part of it.
In a compromise, the proposed Cancún agreement calls for work on a second period of the Kyoto Protocol “to ensure that there is no gap” but does not oblige countries to be part of the new round.
Japan and like-minded Russia “accept this language, while before they didn’t accept it”, Brazilian negotiator Luiz Alberto Figueiredo told reporters.
“This is positive language which clearly states a second period of commitments,” said Figueiredo, a supporter of the Kyoto Protocol.
Japan faced intense pressure to compromise, with British Prime Minister David Cameron early on Friday telephoning his counterpart, Naoto Kan, diplomats said.
The Kyoto Protocol makes no demands on emerging economies to curb emissions. China has refused to be subjected to a treaty, although India in a surprise shift in Cancún said it would at least consider binding action in the future.
The US is the sole rich nation to reject the Kyoto Protocol. US President Barack Obama has pledged action but is hobbled after his rivals in the Republican Party swept mid-term elections.
‘This breathes new life into the talks’
In one key area, the draft agreement would set up a “Green Climate Fund” to administer assistance to poor nations, which many experts say are already suffering more floods and drought as temperatures steadily mount.
The fund would be steered by a board of 24 members chosen evenly from developed and developing nations. For the first three years, the new international organisation would be under the World Bank — a point of controversy for some activists who distrust the Washington-based lender.
Tim Gore of anti-poverty movement Oxfam said that more work was needed on the Green Climate Fund but welcomed the Cancún deal on the whole.
“This breathes new life into the talks, tackling the Kyoto conundrum and setting up a climate fund,” he said.
The European Union, Japan and the United States have led pledges of $100-billion a year for poor nations up to 2020, along with $30-billion in immediate assistance.
A broader issue is just how wealthy nations would raise the money, with some negotiators advocating levies on airplane and shipping fuel.
The talks also helped spell out ways for wealthy nations to help developing states preserve tropical forests — a crucial way to combat climate change as lush vegetation counteracts pollution. — AFP