World climate talks in Cancun yesterday entered their final stretch beset by fears of a repeat of the failures that nearly wrecked the Copenhagen summit in December last year.
Environment ministers began arriving in the Mexican resort city over the weekend to find themselves plunged into a row over the Kyoto Protocol and a logjam of -inter-connected, unresolved issues.
The outcome of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change gathering is unclear, despite 12 days of meetings and low-expectations, delegates say.
“We’re starting to have positions that are a bit stronger and a bit more radical,” said France’s climate negotiator Brice Lalonde, calling for a “spirit of compromise.”
The hope is that Cancun will prepare the ground for curbs on man-made greenhouse gases and give the go-ahead for a fund to help channel hundreds of billions of dollars in aid towards poor, vulnerable countries.
This low-key approach contrasts with the vision of Copenhagen, where dreams of an overarching deal blessed by world leaders turned into a nightmare of squabbles and nit-picking.
Negotiators face the task of securing consensus on hugely detailed issues ranging from verifying emissions pledges and preventing deforestation to clean-technology transfers and the details of a future “Green Fund.”
One concern is that an outcome in this arena is imperiled by a row in the other forum on the future of the Kyoto Protocol.
“There are two pillars in this system,” Chinese head negotiator Su Wei (蘇偉) said on Saturday. “If one pillar is got rid of, you can imagine what the general architecture would look like and there would certainly be a collapse.”
The Kyoto Protocol’s commitments run out at the end of 2012 and Japan has bluntly refused calls to extend it tentatively. The treaty only requires wealthy nations to cut emissions, but the US rejected it in 2001.
Japan says it is pointless and unfair, for industrial powers to bind themselves to tough, legally binding constraints when huge polluters — China and the UStates, chief among them — offer only voluntary pledges.
Japanese negotiator Hideki Minamikawa called for “a new framework in which all countries including all the major emitters can work together.”
Delegates say that Canada and Russia could be tempted to join the exodus, weakening or even destroying a treaty seen by developing countries as a sacred text. However, Australia said it would accept a second Kyoto period.
The Cancun meeting caps a year in which climate change has been all but driven off the political map by the near-fiasco in Copenhagen and fixation with economic crisis.
Scientists, though, say the peril is worse than ever, and stringent reductions are needed on carbon pollution within the next 40 years to prevent potentially catastrophic damage to the climate system.
Emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, scaled new peaks last year and this year is on course to become one of the three warmest years on record and the last decade the hottest ever, according to new research.