Global negotiators engaged in rare public recriminations as they worked late into the night Friday in Warsaw to reach a broad outline for an eventual treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions and limit the future fallout of a warming planet.
Bitterness spilled into the open on the final scheduled day of the United Nations summit when Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, accused a group of developing countries including China and India of attempting to evade responsibility for tackling climate change and blocking progress.
"You'll understand that that is not acceptable to the European Union, but I also think to really many others, because they know that only if all of us do our utmost in the years after 2020, we will get what we really need," she said during a break in negotiations.
Ms. Hedegaard's undiplomatic outburst reflected concerns that the negotiations were backsliding into a rich country-poor country divide that would stall progress toward a new agreement by all major countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Negotiators hoped to produce a blueprint containing the broad principles of a deal that would aim to limit global warming to two degrees C by having all major emitters commit to deeper cuts beyond 2020.
Canada's Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said from Warsaw late Friday she was still hopeful negotiators could cobble together a joint statement as the summit went into overtime. Failure to reach a joint statement in Warsaw would mark a stunning setback for the global climate negotiations and make it nearly impossible to conclude a treaty in 2015 as anticipated. UN climate chief Christine Figueros warned that, without a climate pact, the world would almost certainly surpass the two-degree target, with dire consequences for the planet and its people.
"In the nature of these negotiations people don't compromise, and they don't reach an agreement until the 11th hour," Irish Environment Minister Phil Hogan told Bloomberg News.
But the meeting has been fraught with political grandstanding that at times appeared to bring the UN process to the brink of collapse.
The Warsaw talks opened two weeks ago in the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan's devastation of the Philippines, and Filipino negotiator Yeb Sano began a hunger strike to protest the poor progress towards a new climate treaty. Delegates of non-governmental organizations at one point walked out of the session in frustration.
As the week progressed, relations between rich and poorer countries became increasingly frayed. Speaking on behalf of the group of developing countries that includes China and India as well as Pakistan, Malaysia and the Philippines, Venezuela's climate negotiator Claudia Salerno condemned what she called Ms. Hedegaard's "brazen attack."
Ms. Salerno said any future deal must respect the long-enshrined principle in climate negotiations that the developed world bore more responsibility for the problem, and therefore will have to commit to the lion's share of the mitigation effort. Poland also roiled the summit when Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced cabinet changes this week, saying his Environment Minister, who is moderating the conference, would be replaced once it ends.
Christian Holz, director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said that countries can negotiate around the rich-poor distinction, so long as developing countries commit to actions that would reduce emissions and the developed world recognizes it needs to do more than countries still struggling to eliminate wholesale poverty.
At the 2009 Copenhagen summit, Canada set a target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. A recent Environment Canada report said it is not on track to meet the commitment and will require aggressive new actions from the federal and provincial governments to get there.