Europe has clashed with the US Obama administration over climate change
in a potentially damaging split that comes ahead of crucial political
negotiations on a new global deal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Guardian understands that key differences have emerged between the US
and Europe over the structure of a new worldwide treaty on global
warming. Sources on the European side say the US approach could
undermine the new treaty and weaken the world's ability to cut carbon
The treaty will be negotiated in December at a UN meeting in Copenhagen
and is widely billed as the last chance to save the planet from a
temperature rise of 2C or higher, which the EU considers dangerous.
we end up with a weaker framework with less stringent compliance, then
that is not so good for the chances of hitting 2C," a source close to
the EU negotiating team said.
News of the split comes amid mounting concern that the Copenhagen talks will not make the necessary progress.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN general secretary, told the Guardian last night that negotiations had stalled and need to "get moving".
of an unprecedented UN climate change summit of almost 100 heads of
government in New York next week, Moon said the leaders held in their
hands "the future of this entire humanity".
He said: "We are
deeply concerned that the negotiation is not making much headway [and]
it is absolutely and crucially important for the leaders to demonstrate
their political will and leadership."
The dispute between the US
and Europe is over the way national carbon reduction targets would be
counted. Europe has been pushing to retain structures and systems set
up under the Kyoto protocol,
the existing global treaty on climate change. US negotiators have told
European counterparts that the Obama administration intends to sweep
away almost all of the Kyoto architecture and replace it with a system
of its own design.
The issue is highly sensitive and European
officials are reluctant to be seen to openly criticise the Obama
administration, which they acknowledge has engaged with climate change in a way that President Bush refused to. But they fear the US move could sink efforts to agree a robust new treaty in Copenhagen.
US distanced itself from Kyoto under President Bush because it made no
demands on China, and the treaty remains political poison in
Washington. European negotiators knew the US would be reluctant to
embrace Kyoto, but they hoped they would be able to use it as a
foundation for a new agreement.
If Kyoto is scrapped, it could
take several years to negotiate a replacement framework, the source
added, a delay that could strike a terminal blow at efforts to prevent
dangerous climate change. "In Europe we want to build on Kyoto, but the
US proposal would in effect kill it off. If we have to start from
scratch then it all takes time. It could be 2015 or 2016 before
something is in place, who knows."
According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), world emissions need to peak by 2015 to give any chance of avoiding a 2C rise.
is unlikely to stand up to the US, the source added. "I am not sure
that the EU actually has the guts for a showdown and that may be
exactly the problem." The US plan is likely to anger many in the
developing world, who are keen to retain Kyoto because of the
obligations it makes on rich countries.
Under Kyoto, greenhouse
gas reductions are subject to an international system that regulates
the calculation of emissions, the purchase of carbon credits and
contribution of sectors such as forestry. The US is pushing instead for
each country to set its own rules and to decide unilaterally how to
meet its target.
The US is yet to offer full details on how its scheme might work, though a draft "implementing agreement" submitted to the UN by the Obama team in May contained a key clause that emissions reductions would be subject to "conformity with domestic law".
experts say the phrase is designed to protect the US from being forced
to implement international action it does not agree with. Farhana
Yamin, an environmental lawyer with the Institute of Development
Studies, who worked on Kyoto, said: "It seems a bit backwards. The
danger is that the domestic tail starts to wag the international dog."
move reflects a "prehistoric" level of debate on climate change in the
wider US, according to another high-ranking European official, and
anxiety in the Obama administration about its ability to get a new
global treaty ratified in the US Senate, where it would require a
two-thirds majority vote. The US has not ratified a major international
environment treaty since 1992 and President Clinton never submitted the
Kyoto protocol for approval, after a unaminous Senate vote indicated it would be rejected on economic grounds.
US proposal for unilateral rule-setting "is all about getting something
through the Senate," the source said. "But I don't have the feeling
that the US has thought through what it means for the Copenhagen
The move could open loopholes for countries to meet
targets without genuine carbon cuts, they said. Europe is not concerned
that the US would exploit such loopholes, but it fears that other
The US State Department, which handles climate change, would not comment.
Eizenstat, who negotiated Kyoto for the US, said: "There has been a sea
change in US attitudes [on climate] and the new president is deeply
committed on this issue. But the EU needs to understand the limitations
in the US. The reality is that is it impossible for my successor to
negotiate something in Copenhagen beyond that which Congress will give
the administration in domestic cap-and-trade legislation."
Purvis, who also worked on the US Kyoto team, said: "It's not welcome
news in Europe but the Kyoto architecture shouldn't have any presumed
status. Many decisions were taken when the United States
was not at the negotiating table. Importing the Kyoto architecture into
a new agreement would leave it vulnerable to charges of repackaging."
denied the US move would weaken the agreement. "It is important for the
US to negotiate an agreement it can join, because another agreement
that did not involve the United States would set back efforts to
protect the climate. Is it weaker to have a system that applies to more
countries? I would argue not."