“Big Three” polluters oppose binding climate deal

DURBAN, South Africa, (Reuters) – The world’s  three biggest polluters China, the United States and India  refused to move towards a new legal commitment to curb their  carbon emissions yesterday, increasing the risk that climate  talks will fail to clinch a meaningful deal this week.

The European Union is leading efforts to keep alive the  Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only legal pact to tackle climate  change, with a conditional promise to sign a global deal that  would force big emitters to change their ways.

But with the planet’s biggest polluters digging in their  heels, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon acknowledged the  almost 200 nations meeting in the South African coastal city of  Durban could struggle to strike a deal backed by legal force.

Xie Zhenhua

“A legally-binding comprehensive agreement may not be  possible in Durban,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the  talks. “But this will have to be our priority.” The European Union is pressing for a pact by 2015 which  would update Kyoto to reflect the emergence of developing  countries such as China as big carbon emitters and impose cuts  on them.

A vital clause in the pact which enforces binding cuts on  rich nations expires at the end of 2012, but all parties have  agreed there is not time to negotiate a complex global deal by  then.

“The European Union would like to see things concluded as  early as possible,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard  told reporters when asked if it would accept a date late than  2015.

“We want a legally binding deal. We have really good reasons  to want that,” she said.
Although the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires at  the end of next year, the European Union wants a deal agreed by  2015 that would take effect no later than 2020.

Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions need to peak and  start falling by 2020 to avoid devastating effects, such as  island countries being submerged and agricultural crops failing.

The European Union’s condition for signing a deal is that  other heavy polluters agree to a road map under which they would  commit, at some stage, to binding reductions.

Without that, the bloc says, there would be no meaningful  progress for the planet as the European Union accounts for only  11 percent of all emissions.       China, the United States and India together make up nearly  half of the world’s CO2 emissions and they all have reasons for  not wanting to be part of a new global deal.
The trio want to put off any commitment on binding cuts  until 2015. That would be after publication of a scientific  review of the effects of climate change and work to measure the  effectiveness of emissions pledges by individual countries.

Although China has moved towards domestic targets for  cutting carbon, Beijin says it is not to blame for previous  generations of industrial pollution and cannot allow its  fast-developing economy to be shackled by the drive to cut  carbon emissions.

Beijing gave positive signals last week that it was prepared  to contemplate some form of binding targets but has since  consistently refused to be pinned down on what China is prepared  to accept and by what date.

The country’s lead negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters  China might be part of a deal if, after 2020, global efforts  were in line with “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

That wording, lifted from  the Kyoto Protocol, places a  heavier burden on rich nations for reducing pollution than  poorer nations, who have historically been less responsible for  the emissions that are changing the planet’s climate.

However, the world economy has moved on significantly since  the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Developed nations  are bound by its terms but developing nations are not —  including China, now the world’s top carbon polluter.

For its part, the United States is held back by domestic  politics at least until after a presidential election next year  as Republicans and President Barack Obama’s Democrats squabble  over every attempt to pass environment legislation.

“We would be quite open to a discussion about a process that  would lead to a negotiation for the thing, whatever it turns out  to be, that follows 2020, and we are also fully willing to  recognise that that might be a legal agreement,” U.S. climate  envoy Todd Stern said.

India says it is a late-comer to industrial development and  its economy lags China, making it reluctant to accept binding  targets that could curb its growth.
“We believe strongly that we should consider the need of a  further legal agreement (…) after assessing the actions of all  under the 2015 review and look at the science,” Jayanthi  Natarajan, India’s environment minister, said.

The EU’s Hedegaard said she was holding bilateral meetings  with all parties, not just the big emitters, in an effort to  increase pressure for a solution.

Even without a deal by the end of this week, the United  Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto  Protocol will still exist, but would not enforce carbon cuts.

Important agreements would remain in place which enable the  monitoring and verification of carbon emissions, which provide  practical data that could help form the basis of a future deal.

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