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Rejecting Kyoto extension threatens climate talks: developing nations

An activist dressed in an outfit made of plastic containers participates in a protest march against climate change in Mexico City December 3, 2010. China accused some developed nations on Friday at U.N. climate talks held in the Mexican beach resort Cancun of seeking to kill the Kyoto Protocol pact to curb global warming, in a damaging standoff with Japan, Russia and Canada.

CLAUDIA DAUT/Claudia Daut/Reuters

Developing countries are warning that global climate talks could collapse if rich countries refuse to make new emission-reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, even as Canada argues that the 15-year-old treaty is badly flawed and needs to be overhauled or replaced.

Negotiators from 194 nations are gathered in this Mexican resort town in an effort to find common ground towards for a new agreement that would bind countries to new emission reductions targets after the first Kyoto commitment period expires in 2012.

Developing countries have served notice that they want any new deal to be an extension of the Kyoto accord for all countries except the United States, which never ratified that treaty.

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That's because Kyoto requires differing levels of commitment, binding industrialized countries to absolute reductions, while encouraging the developing world to establish non-binding national strategies to slow the growth of emissions. It also includes commitments from the rich world to use the United Nations to finance efforts by poorer countries to deal with climate change.

Japan announced earlier this week that it would not make post-2012 commitments under Kyoto, saying it wanted a new deal that would impose similar types of commitments - though not necessarily similar size - on all major emitters, including China and India.

The chair of the Cancun summit, Christiana Figueres, named Canada and Russia as other countries that are resisting making new commitments under the Kyoto agreement. Canada is on track to dramatically miss its 2012 Kyoto target of cutting GHGs by 6 per cent below 1990 levels.

As the first week of talks ended Saturday, Canada was voted "fossil of the day" by 500 international environmental groups for its stand on Kyoto.

The groups said Canada's position would result in a "zombie Kyoto."

"In other words, the patient isn't dead; she's just had her heart removed."

On Saturday, China's chief negotiator Su Wei said the opposition to a new Kyoto deal threatens to derail the international effort to deal with climate change, which got its start with the adoption of the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.

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"It might not seem very constructive, but I would say that is crucial that we would have a confirmation that there will be a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol here in Cancun," Mr. Su told Agence France Presse in an interview.

"There are two pillars in this system. One is the convention itself, the other is the Kyoto Protocol," Mr. Su said. "If one pillar is got rid of, you can imagine how the general architecture would look like and there will be certainly a collapse."

While Canada has not explicitly refused to commit to another round of Kyoto talks, Environment Minister Baird has made it clear the Harper government is opposed to a number of its key principles, including the differing nature of the commitments between rich and emerging economies. And Canada wants one agreement that would bind all major emitters, rather than one deal for Kyoto signatories and another one that binds the United States.

But the European Union has sided with the developing world, saying a two-track deal could provide an effective way to bridge differences and reach agreement to reduce global emissions.

Ms. Figueres produced a new draft agreement on Saturday that included one option of working toward a single agreement, but that approach was opposed by several national delegations. The UN process works on consensus, meaning any country can block a deal. A Latin American group, led by Bolivia, has vowed to veto any agreement that strays from Kyoto, as it blocked the formal adoption of last year's Copenhagen accord.

"In order for there to be a balance, there needs to be a second period of commitment" under the Kyoto protocol, Bolivian negotiator Pablo Solon told a plenary session on Saturday.

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Environmental groups complained that the negotiators' draft text fails to address the large gap between the emission reductions that countries have pledged and what is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

"What is missing is a clear and formal recognition that there is a significant gap between current pledges and the goal," said Gordon Shepherd, head of WWF's climate initiative.

For its part, The U.S. also indicated displeasure with the draft text, saying it fell short on binding developing countries to actually undertake the actions they pledge, and to the measurement and verification of their plans.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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