Global climate talks appear to have slipped backward after five days of negotiations in Bonn, the chief U.S. delegate said Friday, adding that some countries were reneging on promises they made last year to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Poor countries agreed with the grim assessment made by U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing, saying the latest round of talks on how to fight global warming have been frustrating.
The sharp divide between rich and poor nations over how best to fight climate change – a clash that torpedoed a summit in Copenhagen last December – remains, and bodes ill for any deal at the next climate convention in Cancun, Mexico, which begins in November.
“At this point, I am very concerned,” Pershing said. “Unfortunately, what we have seen over and over this week is that some countries are walking back from progress made in Copenhagen, and what was agreed there.”
Christiana Figueres, the top U.N. climate official, put a positive face on the negotiating session. Delegates may feel let down if their issues of interest had not advanced, “but if you see the bigger picture, we have progress.”
She said the Cancun meeting could adopt a series of practical decisions to contain global warming, although it was unlikely to agree on a legally binding climate treaty. That could only come later, she said.
Pershing declined to name the countries, but he said major developing countries were backing away from commitments to slow the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions, and now say emission controls should apply only to industrial countries.
China, India, Brazil and South Africa were among the major developing nations at the Copenhagen summit. Since then, China has become the world’s largest consumer of energy, to add to its earlier position of being the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter.
Another point of contention, Pershing said, was an agreement in Copenhagen for wealthy countries to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change. Now poor nations say that is not enough.
Dessima Williams, the delegate from Granada who speaks for island states most threatened by rising sea levels, said the $100 billion figure was likely to be challenged.
“It sounds very large,” she said. “For the donor countries it is a lot to ask taxpayers to pay. But you must weigh that against the need” of countries that may be devastated by the effects of global warming.
Williams said one of the reasons for the setback in the talks was the recent failure of the U.S. Congress to pass a climate bill.
Some countries argued for a slowdown in the talks because the lack of legislation cast doubt on Washington’s international commitment.
“That has been taken as a signal by some that nothing can occur,” Williams said.
Pershing assured the negotiators, in public and in private talks, that President Barack Obama remained committed to reducing U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and he had not given up on passing a sweeping climate and energy bill.
In the meantime, “we have multiple tools at our disposal. W will use all of those tools,” he told reporters.