Monday, April 12, 2010

UN Climate Talks ‘Fracturing’ as Decision Delayed (Update1)

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(Adds schedule of meetings in eighth paragraph.)

By Ben Sills

April 12 (Bloomberg) -- Negotiators at United Nations climate talks put off a decision on how to treat a U.S.-brokered agreement on global warming, reducing the chances for a new plan on limiting emissions of greenhouse gasses after 2012.

After three days of discussions, delegates from 175 countries left it up to Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, a diplomat from Zimbabwe chairing the talks, to decide what parts of the accord signed by President Barack Obama in December 2009 in Copenhagen to include in the UN’s official negotiating text.

U.S. delegation chief Jonathan Pershing said he was “upset” by tactics he labeled “completely out of line” when countries that had declared support for the Copenhagen deal joined Sudan and Saudi Arabia in seeking to sideline that accord. The dispute, said the UN diplomat leading the talks, makes it unlikely an agreement will be finished when this year’s global warming discussions conclude in December in Cancun, Mexico.

“The possibility of coming to a legally binding treaty in Cancun has never been on my table,” Yvo de Boer, who is quitting as head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as of July 1, said as the meeting wrapped up last night in Bonn, Germany.

The talks may determine who gets access to $30 billion of climate aid that wealthy nations pledged to the developing world in Copenhagen. This weekend’s fracas damages the UN’s role in the global effort to avert global warming, said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund.

Process ‘Fracturing’

“The UN process is fracturing,” Petsonk said in an interview in Bonn. “The process is going very slowly, and that means that countries that want greater action will turn to national action.”

The meeting was the first gathering of climate diplomats since the Copenhagen talks ended without a legally-binding agreement that would limit emissions of carbon dioxide, blamed for global warming, after the current pact negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 expires in two years.

More Talks

Delegates agreed to add at least two more rounds of talks lasting at least a week to this year’s schedule of climate negotiations, which already includes two sessions each running two weeks from May 31 to June 11 in Bonn and Nov. 29 to Dec. 10 in Cancun. The dates for the new talks haven’t been set.

The discussion this weekend, by junior negotiators, were aimed at laying the groundwork for the meeting in Cancun and rebuilding confidence after Copenhagen, which Sudanese negotiator Bernarditas Muller described as a “trauma.”

Muller and her allies pressed for excluding the deal reached in Copenhagen from future talks, earning a rebuke from the U.S. and other industrial nations that drew up the pact.

The U.S. scrapped about $3 million of aid for Bolivia after it refused to endorse the Copenhagen deal. Other countries that refuse to support the agreement also will be excluded from some aid payments, Pershing, the American representative, said at a press conference.

“The middle ground appears to have been quicksand,” Pershing told the delegates at the talks. In an interview following the decision, he said: “There is an ongoing negotiation about the implementation of the accord, and we will decide on the basis of how countries are moving forward.”

Leftover Disputes

Animosity left over from the Copenhagen talks spilled into the conference’s final session as delegates wrestled about the fate of the deal, which the G-77 representing developing nations said doesn’t do enough to curb climate change.

“Despite continual attempts by the U.S. to make the completely unacceptable Copenhagen Accord the basis for future negotiations, I am glad to say they failed,” Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, said in a statement. “The G-77 group of countries and China remained united. There is no explicit mention of the Copenhagen Accord in the approved resolution.”

Delegates from 70 nations plan to meet next week in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss their position on the UN climate talks.

When Australian climate ambassador Louise Hand suggested a compromise based on a “threesome” of proposals, commenting that it was “quite a cocktail,” Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al Sabban shot back: “In G-77 culture, we don’t like cocktails -- or threesomes.”

Diplomatic Fudge

“What is at stake here is the credibility of the UNFCCC,” Christiana Figueres, Costa Rica’s negotiator, told the session. A compromise, she said, would “remind ourselves and send the important message to others outside this venue that this intergovernmental process can deliver.”

Yesterday’s decision to let Mukahanana-Sangarwe decide how to incorporate the Copenhagen deal into the negotiating text is a diplomatic fudge that will allow the talks to continue when negotiators meet next in Bonn in June, said Petsonk, the Environmental Defense Fund counsel.

“They reached the edge of the abyss,” Petsonk said. “And they stepped back.”

--Editors: Reed Landberg, Randall Hackley

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Sills in Bonn at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at

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