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Rich, poor nations feud at UN climate talks

Filed on April 8, 2011

BANGKOK Rich and poor nations agreed Friday on a roadmap for UN 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 would 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.

“Progress has been slow,” deputy US envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing told reporters as he announced a workplan for the year had finally been struck on Friday evening.

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, and the harder issues immediately flared when delegates began meeting on Tuesday.

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

The talks began on Tuesday with poor nations demanding that rich ones agree to a second round of legally binding greenhouse gas 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 United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol because developing countries were excluded from making commitments, and Pershing repeated this week that the country had no intention of signing under these circumstances.

Throughout the Bangkok talks, the United States 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.

The Cancun agreements saw all nations pledge “urgent action” to keep temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) 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 help poor nations cope with climate change.

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

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

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

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