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Cancún Failure Would Make Climate Talks 'Irrelevant', EU Negotiator Warns
Nations must substantially narrow their differences ahead of crunch summit in Mexico later this year, Artur Runge-Metzger tells delegates at China climate talks
TIANJIN, China - International climate talks are at risk of becoming irrelevant if countries fail to substantially narrow their differences before the end of this year, a senior European diplomat warned today.
The grim prognosis by Artur Runge-Metzger, director of the climate policy division in the European commission, came at the opening of a six-day conference in China aimed at refining possible areas of agreement before crunch UN talks in Cancún in November-December.
"If Cancún does not produce a solid outcome that takes the fight against climate change forward, then I think it risks becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the world," Runge-Metzger told reporters. "We meet in these wonderful places, travel miles to come here. If this process is not effective, then people will say, 'If you can't come to agreement, then why should we bother supporting you?' "
His comments were echoed by other senior negotiators in the Chinese coastal city of Tianjin, where 3,100 negotiators, administrators, journalists and non-governmental climate activists are trying to restore credibility, trust and momentum lost after the disappointment of the Copenhagen climate change summit last year.
In the opening plenary, the UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres told participants they must "accelerate the search for common ground" so Cancún can make progress toward securing a global treaty to tackle global warming. "As governments, you can continue to stand still or move forward. Now is the time to make that choice."
The conference looks set to be a six-day reality check. Expectations among the delegates are considerably lower than they were last year. Nobody predicts a comprehensive, binding deal in Mexico, but some expressed hopes for progress on the protection of forests and the transfer of finance and technology to help developing countries adapt to climate change.
The top Chinese negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said there was also a possibility of advances on the vexed issued of transparency – how to monitor, report and verify each nation's emissions to ensure they are honouring their pledges. This question of trust and accounting has been a key difference between the United States and China.
"I don't think this will be a major obstacle," said Xie, who said China was trying to move the process along by hosting its first UN climate talks. "We hope our efforts here will lay a sold foundation for the Cancún conference at the end of the year."
The opening day formalities saw none of the histrionics and posturing that marked much of the Copenhagen conference. It is a lower-level gathering, but observers said the mood music was positive.
"It was good, I was mildly surprised," said Kelly Dent of Oxfam. "At the risk of sounding like an optimist, what I saw today was a willingness to sit down and start working."
Climate activists warned, however, that the real test would come later in the week as participants try to trim down the 70-odd pages of the negotiating text and the 1,630 brackets that mark disputed terms and targets.
They are looking for substantive progress on financing. At Copenhagen, rich countries promised to provide $30bn (£19bn) over three years in climate funding to poor nations, increasing to a total of $100bn (£63bn) annually by 2020. But details about where this money will come from and how it will be allocated remain sketchy.
While progress will be limited – if it comes at all this week – Mexico wants to continue work in small groups all the way to Cancún – a proposal supported by China.
"It's very different from Copenhagen. That was a sobering experience that many people don't want to repeat," said Barbara Finamore, China programme director for the US-based Natural Resources Defence Council. "There is a real risk that we will lose momentum if we don't move forward. That is why people have come here to roll up their sleeves and get to work."