Rich, poor nations feud at UN climate talks

Rich and poor nations agreed on Friday on a roadmap for United Nations climate talks this year, but only after long-running feuds flared over a wide range of actions they must take to combat global warming.

The four days of talks eventually achieved their main goal of sorting out an agenda for the rest of the year’s negotiations, which will lay the foundations for agreements at an annual UN climate summit in South Africa in November.

But delegates were forced into heated debate as poor countries demanded a greater focus on long-term actions rich countries must take, particularly over cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

“We are content this strikes the right balance, we are disappointed it took so long to agree,” Hungarian climate envoy Jozsef Feiler, representing the European Union, told fellow delegates after the roadmap was formally approved.

Many delegates came to Bangkok with a sense of cautious optimism after rich and poor nations made a series of compromises to achieve breakthroughs at the last annual summit in the Mexican resort city of Cancun in December.

But the Cancun agreements focused mainly on the easiest steps to be taken, after an effort 12 months earlier in Copenhagen to achieve a much more wide-ranging accord saw the UN climate process almost collapse.

The harder issues immediately flared again when the Bangkok meeting started on Tuesday, with poor nations demanding rich ones agree to a second round of legally binding emission reduction commitments under an updated Kyoto Protocol.

The first round of commitments are due to expire at the end of 2012, but some richer countries including Japan have said they will not sign up to a second phase because major polluters the United States and China refuse to.

Developing countries, including China, did not have to commit to cutting emissions as part of the Kyoto Protocol and most of them maintain this should remain the case.

The US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol because developing countries were excluded from making commitments, and it has said repeatedly it has no intention of signing under these circumstances.

Throughout the Bangkok talks, the US and some of the rich countries pushed to have the focus for this year’s negotiations primarily on pushing forward the more modest agreements achieved in Cancun last year.

However poorer nations say that, if only the Cancun agreements are put into action by the end of 2012, rich nations will not have to agree on legally binding emission cuts and the Kyoto Protocol will have largely fizzled out.

In the end, the compromise roadmap ensured a heavy focus on the Cancun agreements for the year but also on ways to look at more long-term and comprehensive ways to tackle global warming.

“Progress has been slow,” deputy US envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing told reporters after the agreement was reached.

“We as concerned parties, along with many other countries, are debating whether to move our agenda forward or rehash and revisit issues we could not agree to in Cancun.”

The Cancun agreements saw all nations pledge “urgent action” to keep temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but without making binding commitments.

A Green Climate Fund was also established that aims to channel $100-billion annually by 2020 from rich countries to help poor nations cope with climate change.

But the Cancun agreements left aside big picture issues such as when global emissions should peak and how exactly to achieve the emissions cuts.

“This year will be more difficult … the power struggle is back,” said France’s ambassador for climate change negotiations, Serge Lepeltier.

The talks in Bangkok will be followed by other rounds in Germany, before the annual summit in Durban, South Africa. — AFP

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