The prospects of a last-minute deal on climate change have emerged at the UN talks in Durban, as the US threw its weight behind the European Union’s proposal for a roadmap towards a new global agreement.
With only a day and a half of negotiating time left to run, the words of support from the US on Thursday came as a surprise to the conference. Todd Stern, US special envoy for climate change, told a press conference: “The EU has called for a roadmap. We support that.”
According to the proposal, negotiations should begin soon on a potential new global agreement by which all the world’s major emitters – both developed and developing countries – would make commitments to cut emissions, starting from 2020. Although the EU wants to set a firm date of 2015 for signing up to such an agreement, the US is reluctant to agree to specific dates yet but wants negotiations to start “promptly”.
The EU also wants that new agreement to be legally binding at a global level – that is, a full international treaty – but the US has not agreed to that, though it left the door open. Stern said: “If we get the kind of roadmap that countries have called for – the EU has called for, that the US supports – for preparing for and negotiating a future regime, whether it ends up being legally binding or not, we don’t know yet, but we are strongly committed to a promptly starting process to move forward on that.”
US officials insisted that Stern’s position had not changed, as he has consistently said he would be open to discussions that could lead to a new accord that could be legally binding, or not. But until now he had not expressed clear support and had avoided the word “roadmap”, a term the US tends to dislike because it implies a fixed route and destination.
The US also insists that the agreement be equally legally binding on all major emitters – that is, if the US and the EU take on legal commitments, so must China. It is still far from certain that China will acquiesce, though its head of delegation told journalists in the week that China was willing to sign up to “a legal document”.
Chris Huhne, the climate change secretary, said: “The key point is that if China sees a way to making a big step forward in living up to its international responsibilities then I think we will see similar commitments right the way across key players, including the US.”
Other countries at the talks are also swinging behind the EU plan, with the Alliance of Small Island States broadly in favour but with important reservations, and many African countries behind it.
Among developed countries, Japan has said it also wants negotiations on a new legally binding treaty to begin, though it has not indicated a firm timeline. Australia said it would sign up if major emitters did, while Canada, however, may still hold out.
In return for support for a treaty to begin to “bite” in 2020, the EU is offering to extend the Kyoto protocol – the only existing global legally binding treaty stipulating emissions cuts – beyond the current commitment period which ends in 2012. It is the only major rich country bloc to do so.
The issue of whether an agreement is legally binding is a crucial one at the talks. Many countries are saying that any agreement take the form of a fully articulated international treaty because they fear that some will otherwisse renege on their commitments.
The EU has pegged 2020 as the “latest” start date for any new climate agreement, because most of the world’s countries – including all the biggest emitters, both developed and developing – already have national commitments running to 2020, under deals struck in Copenhagen in 2009 and last year in Cancún.
- UN climate change talks: EU plan raises hopes of last-ditch deal (guardian.co.uk)
- Durban climate talks go down to the wire (blogs.nature.com)
- SOUTH AFRICA: Support grows for Durban climate deal (france24.com)
- Support grows for Durban climate deal (thestar.com.my)
- U.N. Chief: All-Encompassing Climate Deal ‘May Be Beyond Our Reach For Now’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- India dampens Europe’s hopes of a new climate change agreement (guardian.co.uk)
- Durban climate talks see progress as clock ticks (vancouversun.com)
- Another climate summit, another chance goes up in smoke (independent.co.uk)
- We aren’t balking, U.S. climate envoy tells talks (seattletimes.nwsource.com)