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China, EU Seek To Avoid Blame For Killing Kyoto Pact

No one wants to be viewed as the last party standing over the corpse of the only international climate treaty

China and the European Union today will set out alternative proposals for extending limits on greenhouse gases, seeking to avoid the blame for undermining the only international pact limiting them.

Envoys from Beijing and Brussels last week joined in setting conditions for further curbs on fossil fuel emissions after the restrictions in the Kyoto Protocol expire next year. Today they step up pressure on envoys from 194 nations to back their view of how to carry on the fight against global warming.

The positions are so detailed that they reduce flexibility for an accord at the United Nations climate talks this week, and neither delegation wants to be accused of sabotaging efforts to protect the environment, said Andrew Light, coordinator of climate policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington research group with White House ties.

“No one wants to be viewed as the last party standing over the corpse of the only international climate treaty that requires some parties to cut their emissions,” Light said in an interview at the meeting in Durban, South Africa. “It’s viewed, rightly or wrongly, as the only great success of the UN climate process.”

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard briefs reporters at 10 a.m. in Durban today. Xie Zhenhua, who leads the Chinese delegation, follows at 12:30 p.m. Tomorrow, they’re joined by at least 10 heads of state including Prince Albert II of Monaco and the heads of Ethiopia and Fiji for the final week of talks that conclude on Dec. 9.

China vs Japan

China is leading a group of developing nations including Brazil and India asking industrial nations to sign up to their second set of commitments under Kyoto. The developing countries want to avoid binding targets of their own before 2020. Japan, Canada and Russia have ruled extending the treaty.

The 27-nation EU has said it will extend Kyoto only if all countries agree to a “road map” pointing toward legally- binding targets by 2015 coming into force no later than 2020. That would require developing nations, which don’t have obligations under Kyoto, to take on mandatory targets. It wants to bring both the U.S. and China, the two biggest polluters, into a climate treaty.

“China has always said that they’re open to a legally binding treaty,” Hedegaard said yesterday at a reception in Durban. “The interesting part is will there be an agreement that would also legally bind China?”

China’s Position

China, which until this week has resisted any talk of taking on a target, signaled last week it would consider one after 2020 if five conditions were met. Xie, at a briefing with environmental groups yesterday, said he wanted the EU and other developed countries first to extend Kyoto commitments. He also wants them to make good on aid pledges, implement agreements on technology transfer and other measures.

“If all the conditions are met, we’re open to the process,” said Xie, who is vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission. “For the new framework after 2020, we must continue the Kyoto Protocol, there must be a second commitment period. If there’s no second commitment period it’s not meaningful for us to talk about new framework. This is the first condition.”

While the comments were nothing new for delegates who follow global warming talks closely, they were the most clear any senior government official from Beijing has been about the matter in such a public forum. The Chinese demands also are hard to square with the ones from the EU, reducing the flexibility of negotiators to reach agreement this week, said Wendel Trio, director of the Climate Action Network.

‘Hard as Ever’

“That’s the first time that their conditions have been set so clearly,” Trio, whose environmental lobby group is following the talks, said in Durban. “Despite some reports that China may be softening its stance, Xie’s line was as hard as ever. It’s difficult to expect a compromise on the post-2012 framework.”

The shift in the role played by developing countries in fighting climate change began at the UN talks in Bali in 2007, when they agreed to take on so-called nationally appropriate mitigation actions to reduce greenhouse gases, said Han Seung- soo, former Prime Minister of South Korea, and a former special envoy on climate change for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

“There has been a remarkable change of heart on the part of the emerging and developing economies,” Han, now chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul, said in an interview in Durban. China’s declaration “will certainly make many other major developing countries come to the table in a more cooperative mood.”

‘High Risk’

The U.S., which never ratified Kyoto, is attempting to avoid the debate about the future of the pact and press delegates to adopt a new framework for global warming that would require developing nations to cut emissions too. Jonathan Pershing, a U.S. envoy, last week ruled out signing up to the EU plan, saying officials in Washington couldn’t promise to adopt a binding treaty without seeing specifics of the plan first.

“There is a high risk that at the end of Durban the EU will blame the U.S. and major economies of developing countries for not adopting the amendments of the second commitment period,” said Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace. “The argument of a level playing field for all major emitting countries is just an argument of European governments not to raise the mitigation ambition at home.”

Christiana Figueres, the UN diplomat leading the talks, said yesterday she’s happy with progress at the talks and optimistic that countries can agree to extend Kyoto.

“What I’m most happy about is the very clear progress that has been made on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “The discussion is not whether we’ll have a second commitment period, but how.”

Bloomberg, 5 December 2011