Divide between rich and poor at UN climate talks as wide as ever

US and EU say new agreement must erase old division between developed and developing nations

By Sophie Yeo in Warsaw

Every country must take action under a new global climate change deal, said US lead negotiator Todd Stern, speaking in Warsaw today.

Crucially, Stern said he wants to negotiate a deal that is “in effect not Kyoto”, referring to the 1997 Protocol that was never ratified by the United States because China and India faced no commitments.

While the Kyoto Protocol remains the world’s only legally binding agreement on climate change, it does not commit developing countries to specific targets. Developed countries, meanwhile, agreed to reduce their emissions by an average of 5% based on 1990 levels.

In the new agreement that governments are starting to hammer out in Warsaw this week, the dividing line between developed and developing countries has been eroded. When countries decided in Durban in 2011 to complete a new agreement in 2015, they resolved it would be “applicable to all Parties”.

But this has to be balanced with the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and ‘respective capabilities’, contained within the UN’s original Convention on Climate Change. This allows for the fact that no two countries are alike in their historic contribution to climate change, nor in their present capacity to deal with the problem.

In other words, a new agreement will have to tread a fine line between universal applicability and targets that are uniquely adapted to the individual circumstance of every country.

Developed countries

The US, along with other developed countries, is firm that a Kyoto-style arrangement is not going to take flight around the negotiating table.

Speaking today, as the UN climate change talks ratchet up to a new level of intensity, Stern said: “There are a lot of countries pushing very hard for the old-fashioned bifurcated agreement in which the developing countries would be treated in one way—literally in one section of the agreement—and developed countries in a different part of the agreement.

“We think that’s a non-starter.”

He said that the US proposal was for a structure where each country has individual, nationally determined targets that could be sensitive to regional capability—not one where “one has commitments or legal obligations and one has something of a different, lower order. That’s the kind of structure that we think is not going to work.”

The UK also declared its position today, saying that the new agreement needed to be based on a “spectrum of commitments”.

UK energy and climate chief Ed Davey said that while a new agreement should “recgonise differences”, it must explore options for other countries who haven’t yet made agreements to be able to “play their role”.

“As long as we can show that individually and jointly our commitments reflect the latest climate science, that they are consistent with achieving below the 2C goal, then I think we can really move forward,” he said.

“When we look at it, we envisage a spectrum of commitments—that’s a phrase that we’ve been using a lot. So different countries will be at different levels along those commitments. And I think that phrase, that approach, will enable all parties to come together to play the role that they need to.”

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate commissioner in the EU, repeated the bloc’s view that a global deal would have to include efforts from all countries, and that any withdrawal from this would be “backtracking” from what was decided in Durban.

Developing countries

But poorer countries have said that the basic division between developed and developing states is not up for debate at this year’s climate conference.

Venezuela’s lead negotiator Claudia Salerno told RTCC: “In general the intention of developed countries lately is to scratch the convention, or rewrite or reinterpret it, or try to have an agreement outside the convention.

“What we try to do is strongly say is that whatever we are going to design as an agreement in 2015 it has to be under the convention, and not outside, as they did in 2009 [in Copenhagen].”

Speaking today, the head of China’s delegation Xie Zhenhua said that he was not in Warsaw to rewrite the content of the original framework, which should be adhered to in the new agreement. “We are very strong on this point,” he said.

“On terms of joint effort, there should be no differentiation, but in terms of targets there should be.”

He stressed that China was a victim of climate change, and that its increased emissions was inevitable as the country goes through necessary industrialisation as it develops.

China’s inclusion in the list of developing country’s is likely to remain a point of contention if this means it remains bound by weaker commitments in the final agreement.

A report released yesterday showed that China is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, while its economy is the second largest after the US.

A statement released by the Indian delegation today stressed that the idea of universal applicability “cannot be stretched to imply uniformity of application”, and that historical responsibility for climate change should continue to define the nature and level of commitments in any new international agreement.

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