DURBAN, South Africa — Tempers flared Wednesday over the glacial pace of progress in climate talks taking place in Durban, with the European Union berating the United States and China for blocking the way forward.
“What is really frustrating is to see for the third time … that this U.N. conference is hijacked by the pingpong game between the U.S. and China,” said Jo Leinen, a leading environmental expert in the European Parliament.
Neither China nor the U.S. has agreed to start a new round of talks that would lead to a new, broader and legally binding treaty to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
But the EU will not commit to a second Kyoto Protocol after the first one expires in December 2012 unless the world’s two largest emitters get on board. The U.S. never ratified the first Kyoto agreement, and China was exempted as an emerging economy.
The EU commissioner on climate action, Connie Hedegaard, has insisted that not only the U.S. but also China, which produces 23 percent of carbon pollution, must legally pledge to reduce their emissions.
“The EU has put forth a significant offer,” Hedegaard said Wednesday. “Even if other countries are not ready to commit to a second period of Kyoto, we must be reassured that others will join us in a legally binding framework.”
The U.S. insists that a new agreement is already in place in the form of voluntary reduction pledges made in Cancun in 2010 by Washington, Beijing and many emerging economies now exempted under Kyoto. Those pledges run out in 2020, when the U.S. says it would be time to consider a new agreement.
The U.S., which accounts for about 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, was also lambasted by environmental groups on a separate issue, the Green Climate Fund, which is seen as the absolute minimum achievement for the South African talks.
“The U.S. actions to throw obstacles in the way of any discussion on sources of finance for the Green Climate Fund risks condemning the fund to kick off as an empty shell,” said David Waskow, policy adviser for Oxfam.
At issue is a commitment made at prior climate summits in Cancun and Copenhagen to generate $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to global warming and adopt clean technology. Part of that money is to flow through the Green Climate Fund, whose structure is being debated in Durban.
U.S. officials say there is confusion about the fund, which they say is a separate structure from the $100 billion commitment. Todd Stern, the chief U.S. climate envoy, said he had “no idea” how much money would be in the Green Fund.
“I actually think the Green Climate Fund negotiations, in the scheme of things, are going pretty well,” he told reporters. “There is good progress on that issue.”
But he added that most donor countries were waiting to pledge money until the technical details are worked out by an independent board that is yet to be created.
The target sum of $100 billion, however, would still fall far short of what is needed to help poor countries, argued Mexico President Felipe Calderon in a teleconference to Durban. “We will need many hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said.
Caldorn asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is in Durban, to help negotiators find consensus about the amount of money and its sources — a difficult task given the financial crisis in the developed world.
While uncertainty swirled over the fund’s structure and the overall financial commitment, German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen made a bold offer to host the Green Climate Fund, whose location is also being contested.
Italy’s new environment minister, Corrado Clini, told the German news agency dpa that working together on green technologies with China and the U.S. may be as important, if not more important, than agreeing on legally binding emission targets.
“We should work together — China and Europe — to design, develop and test all the options for reducing carbon intensity. While the European Union is looking at legally binding commitments to reduce emissions, China as a developing country is not on the same track,” he said.
“But this is not a problem, because what we want is to promote concrete programs,” Clini said.