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UN CLIMATE chief Christiana Figueres has conceded that there will now be a “gap” between the imminent expiry of the Kyoto Protocol and the adoption of any new international treaty aimed at tackling global warming.

At a press briefing yesterday the former Costa Rican diplomat and climate negotiator said governments represented at the latest round of talks in Bangkok needed to resolve “fundamental issues” over the future of Kyoto.

Noting that the first period of commitments under the legally-binding protocol would run out at the end of 2012, Ms Figueres said: “Governments have to face the fact that a gap in this effort looks increasingly impossible to avoid.”

As countries such as China showcased their achievements, plans and policies to cut emissions at workshop sessions, Ms Figueres said delegates “need to figure out how to address this issue and take it forward in a collective… way”.

Ms Figueres noted that the future of Kyoto was one of the “difficult” issues left open at last December’s climate summit in Cancún, Mexico, and said delegates needed to “come to a resolution” on it.

“If governments move forward in the continued spirit of flexibility and compromise that inspired them in Mexico, then I’m confident that with political will they can make significant new progress in 2011” in dealing with outstanding issues, such as what happens with Kyoto.

She said all parties to the protocol, which was signed in 1997 and finally ratified in 2005, would meet their commitments, “with the exception of Canada”.

The US refused to ratify it in 2001 and China, now the world’s biggest carbon emitter, is not covered by it.

A well-placed EU source said Kyoto was the most contentious issue facing climate negotiators in the run-up to the next UN summit in Durban at the end of November. “The agenda, or work plan, agreed here will dictate what can be achieved at Durban”, he said.

Asked about the future of nuclear energy, Ms Figueres said that several countries were reviewing their policies “after the Japan catastrophe”, but said this “should not affect or diminish” the ability of these countries to meet their climate change objectives.

“Our preference is to accelerate and increase the participation of renewable energy because, as we know, renewable energy has the lowest cost of fuel and the lowest risk”, she said.

Ms Figueres dismissed a suggestion that the turnout in Bangkok, with 174 of the 194 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change represented, showed a lack of interest or “hope” that talks would produce real results.

She called on negotiators to provide evidence that countries will deliver on commitments they made at Cancún, including a firm pledge to set up the Green Climate Fund and accelerate the transfer of clean technologies to developing economies.

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