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."
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
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.
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
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
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.
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."