Optimism, Warnings Ahead Of Next Week’s UN Climate Talks
November 23, 2011

Optimism, Warnings Ahead Of Next Week’s UN Climate Talks

The Obama administration expressed optimism on Tuesday about next week´s U.N. climate discussions in Durban, South Africa, but stopped short of raising hopes a binding commitment on greenhouse gas emissions could be reached.

Experts say the contentious 2009 Copenhagen summit has cast a shadow over the upcoming Durban meetings (COP17), and could result in a potential breakup of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only agreement setting legal curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporters of the pact say it is model of cooperation between rich and poor nations.

However, Kyoto´s initial pledges expire at the end of 2012, and the U.S. has said it would not commit to an updated pact.

Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, said the issue was not up for discussion.

"Kyoto is not on the table for the United States (but) we don't see it as a logjam," he said during a press conference with reporters.

Rather, the process "has to open up and include all major economies,” he said.

Negotiators from more than 190 nations will meet in Durban from November 28 to December 9, with Europe seeking to establish a roadmap towards a global deal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2015.

Canada, Japan and Russia have also declined to sign on for a second commitment period, citing the lack of legal constraints on the world's largest carbon emitters.
Kyoto has been seriously weakened by the absence of the U.S. and the lack of binding constraints over large, emerging economies such as China and India.

European nations have said they can accept a continuation of the Kyoto pact, as long as China and the U.S. demonstrate they are serious about major reductions in the years ahead.

"We have worked very constructively with the Chinese... all major parties have taken steps together," said Stern.

During the Copenhagen summit, the U.S. committed to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

But Stern said the U.S. would only accept future legally binding conditions beyond 2020 if all large economies made similar commitments.

"We wouldn't do it if all major economies were not in in a full way,” he said.

However, Stern emphasized that the U.S. supported establishing a Green Fund that would help the world's poorest nations cope with climate change.

The goal would be that provisions would be ramped up to contribute $100 billion a year to the fund by 2020.  In addition to governments, private sector and other institutions could also choose to contribute, he said.

Brazil's climate negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo issued a warning to the U.S. and other industrialized nations on Monday, saying they could trigger the collapse of next week's negotiations if they to try to escape their commitments to the fund.

"There is a crisis looming on the horizon and many countries in different areas of the world are, let's say, less ambitious in how they can support the fight against climate change,” Figueiredo told the Guardian.

"Some countries fear that due to the crisis some countries will rethink at least the rhythm of their contribution."

The fund is seen as a critical component to an eventual climate pact — the pay-off for an agreement by emerging economies to lower carbon emissions.

China, India, Brazil and other countries are projected to emit the majority of future greenhouse gasses.

Separately, a senior Chinese government official said on Monday that China would establish its first national think tank on climate change issues, which will be operational before next week´s conference.

The new organization will focus on strategic research and international cooperation, China Daily reported.

Under the working title of the National Strategic Research and International Cooperation Center for Climate Change, the center will employ the China´s best climate change scientists, researchers and analysts, said Li Junfeng, deputy director of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

China established the Department of Climate Change under the NDRC in 2008.  The department consists of five offices and employs about 40 people.

The new center will likely add to the work of the department since global environmental issues, international negotiations and carbon exchanging are all linked to climate change.

"The department is a government organization for research into climate change. The center will be a top think tank providing analysis and suggestions for the country's leaders," Li explained.

"Their responsibilities and goals are different.”

Mei Dewen, president of the China Beijing Environment Exchange, said the issue of climate change is complex, and requires a multi-faceted approach.

"Climate change is a complicated issue," he said.

"It is not only a scientific topic, but also an important economic and political issue that deserves great attention."

Mei said the new center has great significance for the carbon-trading industry and related international cooperation.

"Climate change will provide opportunities for economic restructuring in China," he said.

"We need to strengthen international cooperation on carbon-trading projects, finance and technology."

"As one of the largest energy consumers in the world, it is necessary for China to make greater efforts on the climate change issue, and the establishment of the center indicates the country's determination," he said.


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