CANCUN, Mexico (AFP) – The United Nations on Sunday pointed to progress in one track of negotiations on climate change, but questions persisted on whether the talks in Mexico can take concrete steps toward a new treaty.
Negotiators from more than 190 countries were arriving at the Caribbean resort of Cancun for a week of talks, which come in the shadow of last year’s Copenhagen climate summit that ended in widespread disappointment.
Mindful of last year’s debacle, the United Nations and host Mexico have tried to keep expectations in check by not inviting heads of state and highlighting forward movement in talks that have already seen sharp exchanges.
Negotiations are covering two separate tracks and the UN body overseeing the talks released a draft agreement on one of them — the part covering long-term action by the world against global warming.
“This conclusion is important because it gives parties a key to unlock other outstanding issues under the two tracks,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
However, disputes in Cancun have centered on the other track — on the future of the landmark Kyoto Protocol.
The draft on long-term action would reconfirm a key part of the Copenhagen accord — that the world needs to make “deep cuts” in industrial emissions to keep warming in check at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The draft also calls for a review on whether the goal should be strengthened to 1.5 degrees Celsius in light of warnings by scientists that the world faces growing natural disasters and extinction of species due to climate change.
The agreement would restate developed countries to mobilize 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help the poorest nations adapt to climate change.
Gordon Shepherd, head of the environmental group WWF?s Global Climate Initiative, welcomed the draft, saying it “provides a good basis for negotiation.”
Shepherd hailed the text for taking up stronger commitments but said it should also address the “significant gap between current pledges and the goal.”
“We would like to see a process in place immediately that looks at the gap and how to close it,” he said.
Momentum in several key developed nations has shifted away from climate action. The United States is unlikely to approve nationwide cuts on emissions anytime soon after the November election victory by the Republican Party, some of whose members doubt the scientific basis of climate change.
Faced with the growing view that a new global treaty is far away, the European Union has led calls to extend the Kyoto Protocol, whose requirements for developed nations to cut emissions run out at the end of 2012.
Japan has adamantly rejected the idea, saying that the Kyoto Protocol — negotiated in its ancient capital in 1997 — is unfair and that it will not sign up for a second round of pledges under the treaty.
The Kyoto Protocol makes no demands of developing nations such as China, which is now the world’s topemitter. The United States, the number two emitter, also is free of requirements as it rejected the treaty in 2001.
“Japan’s position is to seek a more global framework with the participation of all major emitters, in a legally binding way, after 2012,” Japanese negotiator Hideki Minamikawa said.
China has ramped up action on climate change, surpassing the United States in green investment according to two recent studies. But China has resisted calls by developed nations for legally binding constraints on its emissions.
The United States believes that binding action by all nations is crucial to make a treaty palatable in Washington. US and Chinese negotiators have been working — with some apparent success — on finding ways to verify action that nations are staying true to pledges on climate change.