Analysis: Ghost of Cancun haunts Bangkok climate talks

By David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia

BANGKOK (Reuters) – The deep divisions apparently bridged by last December’s climate deal in Cancun opened anew this week at U.N. talks in Bangkok, undermining the chance of any agreement on the shape of a broader pact by year’s end.

The April 3-8 talks in the Thai capital stalled on disagreement over an agenda to guide negotiations through the year ahead of a late November annual meeting in Durban, South Africa.

Developing nations in Bangkok pushed for a sharper focus on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, rich nations’ pledges to cut emissions and climate finance for the poor — issues that Cancun didn’t fully address.

The United States and others wanted to focus only on the less contentious Cancun agreements.

“Echoes of previous battles have come back to haunt us but a lot of countries do want to see progress and there are some positive signals,” said Tim Gore, climate change policy adviser for Oxfam.

Cancun reached a series of agreements including a fund to channel $100 billion a year to poor nations by 2020, a scheme to transfer clean energy technology and to hold a rise in global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.

These steps and others were widely seen as saving the fraught U.N. climate process from collapse. But in Bangkok differences emerged on how to move ahead and tackle harder issues, particularly the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s main climate change treaty.

“There’s a bit of buyers’ regret going on here by developing nations. Except this time there’s no refund,” a rich nation delegate told Reuters, referring to the view that some poorer nations felt they had conceded too much in Cancun.


Kyoto binds about 40 industrialized nations to emissions targets during its 2008-12 first phase. Poorer nations only have to take voluntary steps and are keen to keep this formulation in future, saying hard targets could harm economic growth.

The pact was originally meant to be extended into a second period from 2013 with deeper emissions cuts from rich nations. But no successor to Kyoto or another broader pact that binds all major economies is in sight.

Agreement in the debate is critical to reach the goal of stepping up the fight against climate change by limiting the rise in global temperatures and reducing the risk of more extreme weather, crop failures and rising seas levels.

The United Nations says pledges on the table to rein in greenhouse gas emissions are just 60 percent of what scientists say is required to have a medium chance of preventing a 2 deg C rise and avoid dangerous climate change.

A tougher climate pact is crucial in shaping global energy policies and giving investors more certainty and will fuel growth in carbon markets now worth more than $120 billion.

Tougher targets for emissions cuts and steps by developing nations to make their economies more efficient boost investment in cleaner energy, transport and greener buildings.

Global investment in renewable energy in 2010 reached $243 billion, Ernst & Young said in a report last month.

The problem, though, is that rich nations won’t up their pledges to cut emissions unless their competitors do and unless they are certain developing countries are meeting their promises.

That lack of trust undermines the talks. Kyoto is at the heart of the trust issue. Many rich nations say Kyoto no longer reflects the reality that developing nations are now the largest, and rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. They must be brought into a broader pact.

Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States, which never ratified Kyoto, are all firmly opposed to extending Kyoto and want a new agreement. India, China and other developing nations disagree, saying Kyoto must remain and that rich nations need to do more to cut emissions.


“A second commitment period and the Kyoto Protocol is a must. There is no room to make any compromise from my side,” senior Chinese delegate Huang Huikang said on Thursday.

Analysts saw the fight over Kyoto as far from over.

“Emerging economies do not appear close to abandoning Kyoto and any that backs away from the protocol risks a backlash from the rest of the group, reducing the likelihood that any individual country would unilaterally shift its position,” said Divya Reddy of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Some nations say any backsliding from Kyoto endangered the climate fight.

“We haven’t got an alternative and an alternative isn’t going to happen quick enough. We have to accept that the Kyoto Protocol, at least for the next commitment period, is a bridge toward a broader agreement,” Ian Fry, the lead delegate from the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, told Reuters.

The United States has been accused of being a roadblock in the talks because of its failure to pass a climate bill and a resurgent Republican party means it can’t boost its carbon cut pledge of minus 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said in a speech on Wednesday the United States was not opposed to any future plan that includes binding international obligations to cut emissions “if they genuinely apply to all the major players.” [ID:nN06225076]

But he said they were not necessary because “it is the national plans for countries, written into law and regulations that count and bind,” sentiments that infuriate developing countries who say a tougher international pact is vital.

“You can ask developing countries to do all sorts of things,” said Hans Verolme, a veteran climate adviser for governments and NGOs, saying rich nations that are part of Kyoto need to deepen carbon cuts and take on new legal commitments.

“Otherwise, what legal incentive is there for developing countries to sign a deal that condemns them to the consequences of warming?”

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Analysis: Ghost of Cancun haunts Bangkok climate talks