Opening Salvos as UN Climate Negotiations Slog On

Oxfam International activists stage an action in Durban

The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins tomorrow in Durban, South Africa.

For several years now the world’s governments have been trying to develop a comprehensive treaty to address the climate problem and the shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol.   Very little progress has been made.

There are many obstacles to be cleared.  One of the most intractable is the desire on the part of the United States to insure that developing countries take actions to reduce the growth of their emissions in such a way that they can be objectively verified.

For developing countries such as China and India, they respond that the United States is a large historic emitter and that they expect action from the developed world before they will consider any legal instrument inhibiting their own emission growth.

Over the past several weeks countries have been presenting draft papers of language that they would like to see in any agreement coming out of Durban.

Today some of these texts were released to the public.  The offerings from China, India, and Brazil on the one hand, and the United States, on the other, don’t give much hope in terms of bridging the political gaps between the developed world and the major emerging economies.

The United States offered a text on “long-term finance”–which refers to the ways in which rich countries will help developing countries advance their economies in a low-carbon manner.  Instead of focusing on how specific financing commitments will be raised and delivered, the text is much more concerned with the “transparency” issue.

The text offered by China, India and Brazil is short and to the point:

Acknowledging that the largest share of historical global emissions of greenhouse gases originated in Annex I Parties and that, owing to this historical responsibility in terms of their contribution to the average global temperature increase, Annex I Parties must take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

Also acknowledging that, according to the preamble of the Convention, social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.

The work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reducing global greenhouse gas emissions as well as a timeframe for global peaking of emissions must be based on historical responsibility as referred above, bearing in mind the context of enhancing and achieving the full, effective and sustained
implementation of the Convention.

In essence, these three large and growing economies are saying that the developed countries are largely responsible for creating the problem and, hence, should be the first to exhibit behaviors that will help alleviate rising emissions levels.

Neither of these positions are surprising.  However, after four years of negotiations the fact that there is no evidence of spaces for agreement is troubling.