UN climate talks yesterday faced the scythe of Father Time as environment ministers haggled over proposals for a new pact to roll back the threat from greenhouse gases.
The 194-nation parley under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) hurtled into an unscheduled 13th day after desperate all-night wrangling over text.
“The concern now is that time is extremely short,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said, spearheading the drive for a legally binding accord by 2015 covering the world’s major carbon polluters. “We still have a lot of text that is not there. It is very difficult to discuss one piece without the other, because in the end the things are interconnected.”
For Mohamed Aslam, environment minister for the climate--threatened island state of the Maldives, “the biggest problem now actually is that we don’t have time.”
“If we can’t reach a decision before the ministers leave, and we are still left with unresolved major issues, it will be difficult,” he said.
Polarized positions, occasional flares of resentment and glacial progress in a complex two-track negotiating process revived memories of the Copenhagen Summit just two years earlier.
Intended to set the seal on a historic treaty, the summit nearly collapsed in finger-pointing. Face was saved in the final hours by a lowest-common-denominator deal put together in the back rooms.
Some European delegates feared the Durban talks were in such a mess that conference chair South Africa might have to declare a suspension at the end of the day. A follow-up meeting would then be staged next year to try to reach consensus.
An informal coalition of nearly 90 African countries, least developed nations and small island states, along with emerging giants Brazil and South Africa, have rallied behind Europe’s plan for a “roadmap.”
Under this, the EU would keep the Kyoto Protocol alive after the landmark treaty — whose carbon constraints apply only to rich -economies that have ratified it — hits a deadline at the end of next year.
In exchange, the UNFCCC nations would mandate talks for a new pact, due to be concluded in 2015, that would draw all major emitters into a single, legally binding framework.
“Only a very few countries stand in the way of an agreement here,” German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen told reporters yesterday. “These are the main emitters, as has been the case throughout the week — the US, China, India.”
One of the biggest stumbling blocks was just the two words “legally binding,” perceived as politically allergic in Washington, given the powerful conservative currents in Congress and presidential elections that lie less than a year away.
South Africa had to revise a first draft text early yesterday after it was savaged by pro-roadmap countries as woefully inadequate, given the warnings from science.
Research presented at Durban said that voluntary carbon pledges under the so-called Copenhagen Accord are falling far short of the goal of limiting warming to 2oC.
In fact, the world is on track for 3.5oC, a likely recipe for droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels that will threaten tens of millions, German data showed.
French climate scientist Jean Jouzel, observing the negotiations from close quarters, said the situation was “discouraging.”
“You don’t see anything emerging here right now that’s different from Copenhagen,” he said.