DURBAN, South Africa — A European drive to forge a legally-binding deal that would break the deadlock at the world climate talks is struggling to gain traction, negotiators and observers at UN talks here say. The scheme has come under fire from both China and United States, the world’s two largest carbon emitters. But it is also being attacked by poorer nations, which are calling for a more rapid ramping up of pledges from rich countries on carbon-cutting and finance.
Under the European scheme, all the world’s major greenhouse gas emitters would agree in principle to conclude a binding pact by 2015 and to implement it by no later than 2020.
“We think delaying action is costly and dangerous. We have to act now, we need to up our level of effort,” the European Union’s top negotiator, Artur Runge-Metzger, said Wednesday.
A raft of recent scientific reports have shown that the window of opportunity for preventing the planet from dangerously overheating is shrinking fast, he said.
As a quid pro quo, the EU says it is willing to renew CO2-reduction pledges under the embattled Kyoto Protocol, whose first round of cuts expires next year.
Developing countries have come into the meeting held under the 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) demanding that Kyoto be kept alive.
But other key actors in the climate drama — each for their own reasons, expressed or not — have doused the EU plan with a cold shower.
“I exchanged views with my European colleagues before I came here and told them very clearly that a mandate is too much,” Li Gao, a senior climate negotiator from China, told AFP on the sidelines of the meeting.
For China, an agreement to hammer out a global climate deal already exists.
The so-called Bali Roadmap in 2007 was supposed to conclude with a planet-saving pact in Copenhagen two years later.
Instead, that meeting deadlocked, barely avoiding collapse by producing an 11th-hour agreement that fell far short of the intended goal.
“We are still on the process of the Bali Roadmap. We have to finish our mandate and then we can talk about a new one,” Li said.
“If we still have not finished, what should we do? We can’t talk about something new, this is not a good way to proceed.”
US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing acknowledged that greater efforts would be needed after 2020, but said the EU scheme put the cart before the horse.
“Some countries want to stipulate up front that such steps should be in the form of a legally binding agreement. Others, including us, have indicated that they want to know more about the content of such an agreement before they commit to a particular legal form,” he said.
Many of the world’s most vulnerable countries — especially small island states sinking under rising seas and African nations best by climate-enhanced drought and flooding — say rich nations should solve a problem they created in the first place.
And, they say, a decade-long timetable for action is too long.
“Substantively, the EU position is right on target,” said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a Washington thinktank previously known as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
“But politically, it’s probably too far a reach this year. That likely will leave the EU in the position of having to decide whether to enter a second commitment period despite its conditions not being met — or whether to effectively pull the plug on Kyoto. That will be a very tough call.”
Wendel Trio, director of the green group Climate Action Network Europe, agreed.
“In a way it’s a kind of gamble Europe is doing with the risk of ending up with nothing.
“One could wonder how the EU will be able to achieve a global binding regime, which is one of their main objectives, when at the same time they are risking to close down the only legal instrument that exists.”