Going Nowhere: China-U.S. Fault Lines Open Up at UN Climate Treaty Talks

  • Date: 15/03/14
  • Alex Morales and Mathew Carr, Bloomberg

Fault lines are opening up between developing countries led by China and India and richer nations including the U.S. in talks in Bonn over a new climate treaty. China demands rich nations commit to $490 billion through 2020.

China and India are in the 26-nation Like-Minded Developing Countries bloc that argues they shouldn’t have to bear the same legal responsibility for tackling climate change as developed economies. The U.S. and European Union say a new deal springing from United Nations talks must end the divide, in place since 1992, as already agreed in Durban, South Africa, in 2011.

Wrangling in discussions ending today in Germany suggests the controversy will be dragged out until a Paris conference at the end of next year, potentially undermining a final deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. Developing countries argue rich nations are responsible for the bulk of historical greenhouse gases and must lead the way.

“There’s a concern by the developed countries that there’s an attempt to reopen the Durban package and maintain the firewall,” Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said in an interview in Bonn. China’s submission “could have been written in 2008. In their view, nothing changed in Durban. The view of the U.S., the EU and others is that the world changed fundamentally.”

Chinese and LMDC submissions referred to Kyoto targets that are binding only for developed nations. “Applicability to all does not mean uniformity but differentiation in application” and the split between the two sides “must remain,” the LMDC said, referring to wording in the agreement reached in Durban.

Firewall Standing

“The concern is the firewall never really left us,” Jacob Werksman, an envoy from the European Commission representing the 28-nation EU, said in an interview. “We still have the Chinese and others insisting that there are two sets of countries and expectations for their commitments are determined by that.”

U.S. envoy Trigg Talley told delegates he can’t win backing at home for an accord that doesn’t cover all nations. China is now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases as its economy has grown, overtaking Japan to become the largest after America.

“The status quo won’t work for an agreement in Paris,” Talley told representatives in Bonn. “It becomes more of a problem as emissions profiles of relative contributors of the convention changes and as economies change.”

While China’s “dream” is to stick to a binding emissions reduction target for its whole economy, it isn’t ready, envoy Zou Ji said. “I would again emphasize distinguishing targets between developed and developing countries,” he said. Indian envoy Ravi Prasad also rejected applying rules universally.

Funding Commitment

One complaint of developing nations is a lack of clarity on how much money richer countries will provide to help them cut emissions and adapt to the effects of warmer temperatures such as rising sea levels and melting glaciers. Developed countries forked out $10 billion a year from 2010 through 2012 and have pledged to ramp aid up to an annual $100 billion, including private funds, in 2020, without spelling out interim levels.

China has proposed they commit to $490 billion through 2020, ramping up from $40 billion this year to $100 billion.

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