December 6, 2010

Climate Progress Slow But Steady At UN Conference

"Compromise" and "hope" were the words being used to describe the ongoing UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, as negotiators have reported genuine progress entering the final week of the conference.

According to Arthur Max of the Associated Press, "More countries are expected this week to pledge specific actions to limit carbon emissions over the next decade," and according to BBC News Environmental Correspondent Richard Black, the second week of the talks amongst members of the 193 nation climate panel opened "with signs that countries are keen to find compromise on key issues."

"China and India have softened some hard lines that helped drive last year's Copenhagen summit to stalemate," Black added. "New draft agreements released over the weekend have so far been met with cautious approval."

Last year's talks in Copenhagen resulted only in a non-binding accord that just 140 countries endorsed. Of those, only 85 nations made any specific pledges towards combating carbon emissions by 2020. During this past week's talks, however, additional countries had committed to such pledges in private, Mexico Deputy Foreign Minister Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo told Max.

Robledo would not identify any of those parties, but according to Max, he said that those promises came from "industrial and developing nations." As the Deputy Foreign Minister told reporters on Sunday, "There has been a clear message from some parties, and that would certainly be very good news."

However, there remains contention over several key issues, including the future of the Kyoto Protocol. According to Shaun Tandon of AFP, the UN climate conference had opened discussions of extending the treaty beyond 2010, which Tandon says resulted in "sharp disagreements" and, in Black's words, show that "fundamental divisions remain" amongst the negotiators.

"Japan, supported by Russia and Canada, is steadfastly rejecting demands that developed countries agree new emission cuts under the protocol," the BBC News reporter said on Monday. "They argue that nations inside it account for less than one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, so logically the protocol cannot play a bit part in curbing them."

"However," he added, "some developing countries are adamant that developed countries must use it for further pledges"¦ They approve of its legally-binding nature, and the funds it generates to help poor nations prepare for climate impacts."

Despite those differences, negotiators were celebrating actual progress, though with cautious optimism.

Wendel Trio, international climate policy director for environmental group Greenpeace, told Tandon that the tone of the climate negotiations "vastly improved" since Copenhagen, but warned that the talks could still go either way.

"We can leave with an agreement that has substance on a pathway to a legally binding deal, or have one with very little substance. It's hard to predict, but at least there's a positive sign," Trio said.

"A robust and balanced outcome is in reach here in Cancun, but it requires us to step up the pace of negotiations," added EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.


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