Deadlock in Bangkok as standoffs, bickering dominate


THE UN climate talks here are deadlocked over demands by developing countries for commitments by EU and other developed countries that the Kyoto Protocol will be renewed, before they will even consider less contentious issues.

“At the current rate of progress, it’s effectively a complete stand- off,” one EU delegate involved in the negotiations said yesterday. “Parties would do well to leave Bangkok with agreement on an agenda, never mind a work programme.”

He said the G77 group of 134 developing countries, including China, “want to put down rock-solid markers in terms of the way they want process to proceed and what they want to achieve at Durban” – the UN climate change summit in December.

It hasn’t helped that Dan Reifsnyder, current chairman of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Co-operative Action (LCA) – one of the twin tracks in the talks – was previously a senior US negotiator. “Some delegates are wiping his nose in it,” the EU source said.

“The stand-off suits G77 because, if they can stall LCA track, it puts developed countries under more pressure to do something about Kyoto due to the gap,” a reference the 14 billion-tonne gap between pledged emissions cuts and what scientists say is needed.

On yet another blisteringly hot day in Bangkok, delegates and observers arriving at the UN conference centre were offered free ice cream by the Global Campaign for Climate Action “to make them realise about the temperature rising and work for positive action”.

With the talks due to conclude today, more moderate developing countries – led by Colombia – were trying to broker a compromise that would see substantive negotiations getting under way to build on the “incremental progress” made in Cancún last December.

The more hardline G77 members, though, such as Bolivia and Venezuela, were insisting that the EU and others must pledge to renew the Kyoto Protocol – due to expire at the end of 2012 – as a key step towards achieving a comprehensive global deal on climate change.

In New York on Wednesday night, chief US climate change envoy Todd Stern laid it on the line that a treaty to curb global warming was “not doable” and accused developing countries of seeking to preserve a “firewall” that would exclude them from making commitments.

After addressing a Bloomberg conference on new energy finance, he said in an interview: “I don’t think it’s necessary that there be internationally binding emission caps as long as you’ve got national laws and regulations. What I am saying is it’s not doable.”

Under the Cancún agreement, countries agreed to put forward their own national emissions commitments, share “clean technology” and establish a “green climate fund” to help poorer nations adapt to droughts, rising sea levels and more intense storms.

“You don’t need a treaty to do that,” Mr Stern said. “You can do that right now. You say ‘Oh well, it’s not legally binding.’ So what?” He added: “The moment you make the obligations legally binding, you will diminish the ambition of what countries are proposing to do.”

The US was not opposed to future binding international obligations to cut emissions “if they genuinely apply to all the major players”, but they were not necessary because “it is the national plans for countries, written into law and regulations, that count and bind”.

Referring to the talks in Bangkok, Mr Stern said they were “marked by struggles over the agenda [like] bickering over the shape of the negotiating table”.

There were also “ideas floating around that are more likely to divert and divide than to produce results”. He suggested that the US might even bypass the UN process, saying it was “not the sole platform” for climate protection.

“It also has the potential to be a platform focused mostly on rhetorical thrust and parry, with a thick overlay of accusation and blame.” This was “not useful”.

Elliot Diringer of the US Pew Center on Global Climate said a treaty was “still years off, and there are other options. We’ve been so obsessed with binding outcomes we’ve largely ignored those options. It’s been binding or nothing and we’ve gotten largely nothing.”

Jake Schmidt of the Washington- based Natural Resources Defense Council said some developing countries wanted Durban to resolve all the hard issues, rather than implement Cancún. “That is a recipe for disaster that will blow-up in South Africa’s face.”