US Threatens to Derail Climate Talks by Refusing to Include Kyoto Targets

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The Guardian/UK

US Threatens to Derail Climate Talks by Refusing to Include Kyoto Targets

Protocol seen as basis for Copenhagen negotiations but America refuses to be 'stuck with agreement 20 years old'

by
John Vidal

Workers build a sea wall defence in southern Thailand as climate negotiators discuss a replacement to the Kyoto protocol in Bangkok. (Photograph: VINAI DITHAJOHN/EPA)

The US threatened to derail a deal on global climate change today in a public showdown with China by expressing deep opposition to the existing Kyoto protocol.
The US team also urged other rich countries to join it in setting up a
new legal agreement which would, unlike Kyoto, force all countries to
reduce emissions.

In a further development, the EU sided
strongly with the US in seeking a new agreement, but said that it hoped
the best elements of Kyoto could be kept. China and many developing
countries immediately hit back stating that the protocol, the world's
only legally binding commitment to get countries to reduce emissions,
was "not negotiable".

With only a few days of formal UN
negotiations remaining before the crunch Copenhagen meeting in
December, and the world's two largest emitters refusing to give ground,
a third way may now have to be found to secure a climate change
agreement. Last night it emerged that lawyers for the EU are in talks
with the US delegation urgently seeking a way out of the impasse that
now threatens a strong climate deal.

In a day of high
international rhetoric, chief US negotiator Jonathan Pershing said the
US had moved significantly in the last year. "There has been a
startling change in the US position. There is now engagement. We have
had a 10-fold increase finance from the US. We have put $80bn into a
green economic stimulus package. One year ago there was no commitment
to a global agreement."

But he forcefully outlined
America's opposition to the Kyoto protocol. "We are not going to be in
the Kyoto protocol. We are not going to be part of an agreement that we
cannot meet. We say a new agreement has to [be signed] by all
countries. Things have changed since Kyoto. Where countries were in
1990 and today is very different. We cannot be stuck with an agreement
20 years old. We want action from all countries."

Yu
Qingtai, China's special representative on climate talks, said rich
countries should not desert the Kyoto agreement, which all
industrialised countries except the US signed up to and was ratified in
2002 after many years of negotiations. It contains no requirement for
developing countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as both their
current and historical emissions are low in most cases. However, China,
with its surging economy and rapidly expanding population is now the
world's biggest polluter.

"The Kyoto protocol is not
negotiable. We want [it] to be strengthened. We don't want to kill
Kyoto. We really want a revival, a strengthening of the treaty. That
can only be done by Annex I [industrialised] countries having a target of 40% cuts by 2020," said Yu.

"We
have an agreement. If you take that away [you remove] the basis of
negotiations. There are specific provisions for parties [like the US]
who are not signed up to the Kyoto protocol."

China was
backed strongly by the G77 group of 130 countries and the Alliance of
Small Island States (Aosis), made up of Caribbean and Pacific countries
which expect to be made uninhabitable in the next few generations if a
strong climate agreement is not secured.

"We face an
emergency. We want commitments. We did not create the problem. Any
mechanism currently in use is one we want to maintain. National actions
are important but they are no substitutes for an international
framework," said Dessima Williams, a Grenadian spokeswoman for Aosis.

The
EU, today sided openly with the US for the first time. "We look at the
Kyoto protocol, but since it came into force we have seen emissions
increase. It has not decreased emissions. It's not enough and we need
more," said spokesman Karl Falkenberg.

"We are very
unlikely to see the US join Kyoto, but we are working with the US to
find a legal framework to allow the US to participate and which will
allow large emitters [such as China] to participate."

The
difference between the sides is now considered to threaten the success
of the talks. In essence, the US is insisting on a completely new
agreement, with all countries signed up and all countries free to
choose and set their own targets and timetable. Most other countries
want to keep the existing agreement as a basis for negotiations, to
ensure that rich countries are held by international law to agreed
cuts. China in particular wants cuts calculated on a per capita basis.

Diplomats
last night suggested that the only way out could be for the US to be
asked to sign a separate agreement acceptable to developing countries,
which would see it cutting emissions at a comparable speed to other
countries.

The G77 countries are meeting to consider their
oppositions. One diplomat said: "They are very angry. People have
talked of walking out."

However, lawyers said it would be
difficult to terminate the Kyoto protocol because all parties have to
formally agree by consensus to end it. In addition, if no further
commitment periods after 2012 are established for rich countries, it
would be a breach of their own legal agreements.

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