Loopholes in a UN agreement on climate change will allow China, India and other emerging economies to delay setting any targets to cut their overall emissions.
European Union member states now face a dilemma over whether to continue with plans to make ambitious pledges next year to cut emissions by 2030 without any guarantee that countries with far larger carbon footprints will follow.
China weakened the wording of the agreement during a final negotiating session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Warsaw. This meant the meeting ended without setting a clear course towards the global deal on emissions scheduled to be signed in Paris in December 2015.
A suggestion by the US that each country should propose emissions targets for discussion by March 2015 was watered down by adding that only those nations “ready to do so” would observe the deadline. The word “commitments” was replaced with the weaker “contributions”.
The changes were made to accommodate a group of 130 developing nations which argue that Britain and other countries which were early to industrialise have a “historical responsibility” for emissions. The 130 are resisting setting their own binding targets, saying they must be allowed to continue expanding their economies. The EU and the US say that the distinction made between developing and developed countries in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol is increasingly irrelevant.
When the protocol was being negotiated, developing countries accounted for only about a third of emissions. Now they are responsible for 60 per cent and their share is still growing, with China this year overtaking the EU in emissions per person.
The conference agreed a new “Warsaw International Mechanism” to address the issue of losses incurred by developing countries from extreme weather events, which many scientists say have been intensified by climate change.