The latest round of climate talks stalled on Friday in Bonn, Germany as government delegates couldn´t resolve how to share the burden of reducing man-made global warming, running the risk of weakening any progress made at last year´s talks and possibly undoing a decades-long effort to control carbon emissions.
Developing countries, spearheaded by China, say the industrialized world is responsible for much of the emissions seen and should face the burden of emissions cuts alone, but the developed nations argue that fast-developing economies, such as China — now the top polluter in the world — and India, should not be off the hook.
The Bonn meeting was supposed to work out the details of a deal struck in Durban, South Africa in December. That deal was the creation of a new global climate pact by 2015 that would make both rich and poor nations curb emissions. But as the two-week meeting came to a close, little-to-no progress had been made.
“There is distrust and there is frustration in the atmosphere,” Seyni Nafo, spokesman for a group of African countries, told The Associated Press (AP).
“There is a total stalemate,” Arthur Runge-Metzger, the chief negotiator for the European Union (EU), added.
The EU argues that China and a number of other developing nations are regressing their commitments made in Durban, while the developing countries accuse mainly the US and EU of evading their commitments made in previous negotiations and shifting the burden on climate control to the developing world.
“Developed countries like the U.S., Japan, Canada and Russia … have consistently blocked references to the existing legal principles, while continuing to ignore the fact that their meager emission cut targets expose the world’s most vulnerable people to climate change’s devastating effects,” said Mohamed Adow, a senior climate change adviser at Christian Aid.
“The US and Japan and Russia aren´t taking their responsibilities seriously; yet the developed countries are right in that you can´t rebuild the firewall and pretend that the future for China is the same as the future for Bangladesh,” Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists told BBC News.
“It´s clear that many governments are nowhere near putting in place the policies they have committed to, policies that are not enough to keep temperature rise to below 2 degrees,” Bill Hare, Director of Climate Analytics, told Reuters. “We´ve already identified a major emissions gap and the action being taken is highly unlikely to shrink that gap – indeed it seems that the opposite is happening,” he added.
Paris-based International Energy Agency (IAE) said on Thursday that carbon emissions from fossil fuels reached a record high of 31.6 gigatons in 2011, a 3.2 percent increase from 2010. And despite improving on its energy efficiency, China accounted for the biggest contribution to the global increase, with emissions growing by 720 million tons (9.3 percent).
US emissions have dropped by 1.7 percent as the nation tries to switch gears from coal power to natural gas. However, an exceptionally mild winter may have contributed to much of the drop in emissions seen, the agency reported. Japan´s emissions rose 2.4 percent as it increased the use of fossil fuels in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The planet is on course for a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but that could be even higher if pledges are not met by 2020, the IEA report warned.
But even if governments adopted the most ambitious emissions pledges and employed very strict accounting, the emissions gap would only shrink to 9 billion metric tons, it added.
By the end of the two-week conference, observers including Tove Marie Ryding of Greenpeace International concluded that ambition had been largely absent. “It´s absurd to watch governments sit and point fingers and fight like little kids while the scientists explain about the terrifying impacts of climate change,” she told BBC.
One of the major issues delegates deadlocked over on Friday was the debate on who was considered a rich nation and who was poor.
Countries such as Qatar and Singapore are wealthier than the US per capita but are still defined as developing under UN classification, which also labels China — the world´s second largest economy — as developing.
Implementing a new system on the rich/poor division while also acknowledging historical blame is a big challenge for the UN as it seeks a global response to climate change.
“That is a fundamental issue,” said Henrik Harboe, Norway´s chief climate negotiator. “Some want to keep the old division while we want to look at it in a more dynamic way.”
The climate talks are based on the foundation that industrialized countries must take the lead in curbing climate change by making commitments to the reduction of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. They are also expected to provide money to help poor countries grow in a sustainable way and to protect the most vulnerable nations from rising sea levels, droughts and other consequences due to man-made global warming.
Disputes on how to categorize countries was the key issue that stalled talks in Bonn. On the final day of the two-week meeting, delegates failed to come to an agreement, leaving the issue open until the bigger summit in Qatar in November.
The proposed new deal, which would have binding commitments for all countries after 2020, must be based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” enshrined in previous climate agreements, China´s lead negotiator Su Wei told the AP. “That means we still would continue the current division between developed and developing countries.”
He said China is still a developing country because if you look at wealth per capita, it barely makes the world´s top 100. More than 100 million Chinese live below the poverty line, which Beijing has defined as about $1 a day.
However, delegates from more industrialized nations argue that China´s fast-growing energy needs and rising emissions means that it cannot hide behind the developing curtain any longer and needs to step up to the plate on climate negotiations.
“We need to move into a system which is reflecting modern economic realities,” EU negotiator Christian Pilgaard Zinglersen told the AP.
China rejects the blame for stalling climate talks in Bonn, and passes it to the US and other developed nations, saying they are unwilling to keep their commitments on carbon emissions reductions.
The only existing binding treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, was rejected by the US because it doesn´t impose any emissions targets on China. And on the verge of expiring this year, delegates voted to extend the Kyoto Protocol during the Durban summit in November, though a timeframe wasn´t set. Canada, Japan and Russia have also refused to make any new commitments under Kyoto, meaning it will only cover about 15 percent of global emissions.
The US always maintained that joining Kyoto would harm its economy. And years later, the UN climate effort still has little support from the US Congress.
“We are hoping that they will get on board this time,” noted Nafo, “which is not a given.”