Kate Mackenzie Developing-vs-developed climate tensions still going on strong

The question of how to bear the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is continuing to dominate climate change negotiations.

It’s a big issue. So big that the mere fact four key developing countries and the US managed to reach any kind of agreement – even a weak one – on some overarching principles, led a few commentators to point out that the Copenhagen meeting wasn’t a complete disaster.

But of course the agreement was weak – it lacked crucial specifics such as emissions targets. There’s still some time to reach a truly binding agreement before the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012 – but some key negotiators are beginning to sound pessimistic about the prospects this year.

China’s special representative for climate change negotiations, Yu Qingtai, said on Wednesday that he believed the unfair negotiating positions of developed countries were unlikely to change.

Quoting from comments on a meeting reprinted on china.com.cn (but not translated, as far as we can find), Reuters reported Yu as saying that developed countries would continue to “shifting blame to the developing countries” and “pressuring the developing countries to shoulder unreasonable responsibilities”.

“There may be some adjustments and shifts in the positions and tactics of the various sides, but I personally believe that on some core issues, the positions of the major parties will not undergo any substantive changes,” Yu said at a meeting in Beijing on China’s climate change policies.

Meanwhile yesterday Yvo de Boer, the outgoing head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, was also gloomy, reports Reuters again:

“I think that’s going to be very difficult,” he said of prospects for agreeing a new treaty at an annual ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29-December 10.

De Boer said developing countries would want to know what a treaty would mean “in terms of obligations and what it’s going to bring for them in terms of finance and technology, before they’re willing to take that step and say: ‘yes, we’re willing to work toward a legally binding treaty’.”

“So I think the first step will be to get the architecture right and I think that can be done in Mexico. The next step would be to decide on a treaty on it,” he said.

There is one little bit of light on the horizon – well, maybe – Senator John Kerry is optimistic that a climate bill will pass soon in the US. From Mother Jones:

“I’m excited. I know that’s completely contrary to any conventional wisdom,” he said, noting that he and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) met last night with members of the Obama administration to discuss progress on a bill. “We’re on a short track here in terms of piecing together legislation.” (The optimism about the legislation is so far outside the expectations of most Senate observers that one reporter muttered “Is John Kerry delusional?” following his remarks.)

A successful US climate bill could be a significant filip for climate talks. But just how much depends on the substance of the bill.

All kinds of measures – including dropping the ‘cap’ altogether – have been thrown around, and Kerry himself was fairly short on details on Tuesday.  Without the cap, the Obama Administration’s stated target of a 17 per cent reduction by 2020 can’t be taken very seriously in international talks.

Related links:

Climate panel: The Copenhagen agreement – A relief or a disappointment? (FT Energy Source)