Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

EU warns of climate stalemate, blames Washington

  • An agreement in Copenhagen appears as far away as ever (Photo: Tom Jensen/norden.org)

The EU's top climate negotiator, freshly back in Brussels from late-in-the-game talks in Thailand, has warned of a near stalemate in discussions.

"Bangkok is still miles away from Copenhagen," Artur Runger-Metzger, Europe's chief broker at the talks, told reporters in the European capital on Monday.

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There was little movement surrounding the key demand of developing countries, that the industrialised north stump up some hefty cash to pay for measures to adapt to the effects of global warming and to mitigate their carbon emissions, he said.

As for the third world, "Advanced developing countries need to make a meaningful commitment" to their own carbon reductions, he added.

This issue of "climate finance" - the quid pro quo of money from the north in return for mitigation for the South - been the main sticking point for much of the last year, but Mr Runger-Metzger said there had still been no movement on the subject in Bangkok.

The discussions in reality are two parallel sets of talks - the one aims to achieve long-term action to combat climate change that all countries are involved in, while the other track aims to develop post-2012 emission reduction targets within the Kyoto Protocol, to which the US is not a party, and focusses mainly on industrialised countries.

Developing nations and China, say that for all its faults, they want a maintenance of the protocol for its insistence that while every nation has a responsibility to combat climate change, the burden for the industrialised north, which created the problem, is heavier.

The United States meanwhile wants a focus on the big emitters of today, including China, rather than historical emissions, and prefers an abandonment of this principle of ""common but differentiated responsibilities" that is contained in the protocol.

The EU says it backs a continuance of the Kyoto Protocol, but developing countries say this is just rhetoric and that in the talks, Brussels is backing the US position.

China and the group of developing nations known as the ‘G77' last week accused developed nations of trying to bury the Kyoto Protocol.

"It has become self-evident and actually clear that the intention of the developed countries is to kill off the Kyoto Protocol," said Lumumba D'Aping, of the G77 plus China negotiating coalition, in Bangkok.

The Chinese representative there, Yu Qingtai, said: "I have yet to see a developed country or a group of developed countries coming up to say to the public, the international community and to their own people that they are not here to kill the Kyoto Protocol."

Washington to blame, says EU

Mr Runger-Metzger for his part attempted to shift the blame to Washington.

"You may have heard that China accused the EU of killing off the Kyoto Protocol," he told the Brussels journalists.

"But it is the US that is trying to kill it. They want everything ‘common' and nothing ‘differentiated'," he said, referring to the key Kyoto principle.

"What people are realising is that the US is not going as far or as fast as was anticipated before the summer," he added.

"The question is: What can Obama really commit the US to? Will he be able to make any sort of compromise?"

Developing country sources have told this website that in truth, the push for "common elements" is coming from the US, Japan, Australia and Canada, not the EU but Europe at the same time is doing little to counter this move.

"The EU is briefing against the US, but they aren't doing anything where it matters - attacking the US position in the talks themselves," said one party close to the negotiations.

There are no binding commitments in terms of carbon reduction targets apart from the EU's 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020. In terms of figures that have been bandied about, taken as a whole, industrialised countries are looking to reduce emissions by between nine and 16.5 percent - far below the 25 to 40 percent reduction scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic change.

The best that can be said about the Thai discussions, according to the EU negotiator, is that a consolidation of the negotiating texts was achieved, cutting in half the 250-odd-page document tabled at talks in Bonn earlier this year, he told the journalists.

There are also no firm numbers on the table in terms of climate finance. The European Commission has suggested between €2 and €15 billion, far below the €35 billion civil society calculates as the EU's fair share, but even this is not a firm European Union sum at all.

EU angels and demons

The Swedish presidency is believed to be pushing hard for firm and substantial climate finance sums to be officially offered and sooner rather than later.

Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the UK would also like to see some money on the table.

But the key blocker are not the usual "villains" of Italy or Poland, but Germany, whose finance ministry is blocking, believing that a better game of poker will be played by keeping the EU's cards close to its chest until the last minute in order to extract maximum concessions from developing countries.

Germany is also not in favour of climate finance monies being in addition to existing development aid, as if the two pots of money are combined, they get to claim that they have reached their overseas development assistance targets faster and keep more of the money.

The UK for its part has suggested that the amount of development aid that could be renamed as climate finance be capped at 10 percent, but this proposal is not gaining much traction amongst EU diplomats.

It is understood that climate finance is not a make-or-break issue for Poland, and Warsaw will not block a deal so long as it is "bought off" with some sort of sweetener.

France however is more of a mystery. When at the helm of the EU presidency last year, President Nicolas Sarkozy hyperactively tried to corral member states into backing the bloc's climate and energy package, but has for months now largely been silent on the UN talks.

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