Russia adopts hardline stance at climate talks


AS SPAIN won applause from environmentalists for proposing that the EU raise its 2020 target for cutting climate changing emissions from 20 to 30 per cent, Russia hardened its opposition to any renewal of the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

“What a year for Spain! First the World Cup – and now leading Europe on a call for 30 per cent,” Greenpeace said yesterday. If other EU ministers made similar commitments, “this could be the breakthrough we need for the climate”.

The EU was holding talks with Russia in an attempt to ensure that its opposition to a second phase of Kyoto – shared by Japan, Canada and some other developed countries – does not stand in the way of reaching agreement on other issues in Cancún.

In the EU’s view, failure could undermine faith in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “It’s absolutely crucial that this process, which is the only one we have . . . can prove that it can deliver results”, said Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner on climate change.

Senior UN official Christiana Figueres called on all sides to “redouble their efforts and use creative ways to reach solutions, to travel the last mile to a successful outcome . . . on the world’s long road towards a full solution to the climate challenge”.

With the conference due to end this evening, the tortuous negotiations involving 193 countries are trying to focus on “building blocks”, such as the scope and governance of a new climate fund to aid developing nations and measures to protect forests. While progress is being made on the climate fund, the Ecosystems Climate Alliance said the deforestation talks were still “deadlocked”, with the chair ignoring calls for stronger safeguards.

Hopes that the UN process would lead to a new treaty to combat climate change have been scotched by two of former US president Bill Clinton’s chief negotiators, Timothy Wirth and Eileen Claussen, who both represented the US at the 1997 Kyoto summit.

Mr Wirth said it was “completely unrealistic to continue talking about a single, overarching treaty at least for the next 15 or 20 years”, while Ms Claussen said: “We have to put aside this idea that we will have this one magical treaty. That’s not going to happen for some time”.

India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh also suggested an international agreement on climate change was “not anywhere on the horizon”. Instead, actions taken by both developed and developing countries to reduce emissions would be primarily “domestic”.

That’s why so much emphasis is now being placed, notably by the US, on what’s known in UN jargon as “MRV” – measuring, reporting and verifying voluntary pledges made by individual countries under last year’s Copenhagen Accord.

US climate change envoy Todd Stern has repeatedly made it clear that he would not sign up to a deal on deforestation or other issues in Cancún unless progress is made on MRV.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for the Environment Ciarán Cuffe said the Government’s Climate Change Bill “is being progressed as a matter of urgency” and he expected it to be “in place early next year”. Asked by The Irish Times if this meant the Bill would be published before Christmas, Mr Cuffe said: “Yes, it will”.