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The top US climate negotiator said on Monday that major economies were divided on how to move ahead on emission cuts, with only the European Union supporting an extension of the landmark Kyoto Protocol.

Representatives of major economies that represent the bulk of carbon emissions blamed for climate change met last week in Washington to seek progress ahead of a UN meeting that opens November 28 in Durban, South Africa.

With no new treaty in view, the European Union has spearheaded calls for the Durban meeting to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only treaty that mandates emission cuts. Kyoto’s obligations expire at the end of 2012.

“This is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, issues in the negotiation,” Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, said of the prospects for a second Kyoto commitment period.

The United States is the only major nation that rejected the Kyoto Protocol. Former president George W Bush said the treaty was unfair by requiring action only of wealthy nations and not developing ones such as China, now the largest carbon emitter.

China and fellow major developing countries Brazil, India and South Africa last month issued a joint call for the Durban talks to extend the Kyoto Protocol.

But of major economies that would have obligations under a Kyoto extension, only the European Union is in favour, Stern said.

“My sense is that the EU is the only one that is still considering signing up in some fashion to a second Kyoto commitment period. Japan clearly isn’t, Russia clearly isn’t, Canada clearly isn’t and I think Australia appears not likely,” Stern told reporters on a conference call.

US left out

The United States is not part of the Kyoto discussions. But it has repeatedly called for any future agreement to involve all major economies.

“We could consider it only if it’s genuinely binding with respect to all the major players, whether developed or developing, including China and others,” Stern said.

UN-backed scientists have warned that the world will face growing disasters including droughts, floods and severe storms unless industry curbs carbon emissions that are believed to be causing temperatures to rise.

But Stern said he envisioned progress in other areas in Durban. He said discussions have been moving forward on the establishment of the Green Climate Fund that would help the worst-hit countries such as small islands cope with climate change.

“I’m truly not pessimistic. I think that there are several specific areas where results could be achieved in Durban,” Stern said.

The Green Climate Fund aims to distribute some $100bn a year in aid from wealthy countries starting in 2020, according to an accord reached at last year’s UN-led climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

The Republican-led US House of Representatives is deeply sceptical of climate assistance, but Stern said that the United States and other major countries have been working with the private sector on funding.

AFP, 19 September 2011