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Positions far apart on Kyoto row at climate talks

Published on 07/12/2011

World talks on climate change struggled on Wednesday to overcome a rift on the future of the Kyoto Protocol with less than three days left to secure a deal.

Canada bluntly declared that, for it, Kyoto was now history.

It confirmed it would not renew pledges after the landmark pact’s first roster of carbon curbs expires at the end of 2012.

“We have long said we will not take on a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. We will not obstruct or discourage those that do, but Kyoto for Canada is in the past,” Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said.

Kent’s slapdown of a treaty viewed as iconic by poorer countries hit the nerve point of the talks, which have until late Friday to avoid the second bustup in two years.

The conference is taking place under the 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which has struggled for nearly two decades to roll back what scientists say is a dire threat for mankind.

Several key nations beside Canada, including Japan and Russia, have said they will not renew their Kyoto vows, which are legally binding.

They say a second commitment period is senseless so long as emerging giants and the United States, which has refused to ratify Kyoto, are not bound by the treaty’s constraints.

“For Canada, the Kyoto Protocol is not where the solution lies,” Kent said.

“It is an agreement that covers fewer than 30 percent of global emissions, by some estimates 15 percent or less. It’s an approach that does not lead to a more comprehensive engagement of key parties who need to be actively a part of a global agreement.”

So far, however, only the European Union, which accounts for barely 11 percent of global CO2 emissions, has shown any enthusiasm for renewing its Kyoto vows.

And even then there is a condition: all the world’s major emitters — including the United States and China — must agree in principle to conclude a binding climate pact by 2015 and implement it by 2020.

But none of the big polluters has supported Europe’s “roadmap” idea.

The United States, for its part, is calling for countries to implement a looser, voluntary approach that was born in the stormy final hours of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.

For developing countries, Kyoto is a touchstone of cooperation between rich and poor, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday pleaded with the talks to keep the treaty alive.

“While Kyoto alone will not solve today’s climate problems, it is a foundation to build on with important institutions. It provides the framework that markets sorely need… It is important that we do not create a vacuum,” said Ban.

Brazil, South Africa, India and China have described a second commitment period as “a must,” a position loudly supported on Wednesday by the poorest countries and vulnerable small-island states.

South Africa, as host, gathered a group of countries into an informal huddle known as an indaba, out of which four options emerged for tackling carbon emissions in the medium and longer-term.

Despite the row over Kyoto, other issues have made progress or have a good chance of doing so, said delegates.

They include the design of a “Green Climate Fund” that by 2020 would channel up to 100 billion dollars a year to help poor countries tackle worsening flood, drought, rising seas and storms.

There is also optimism that the conference would give the green light to a levy on carbon emissions from shipping, which until now has been excluded from international curbs. Part of the tax would be channelled into the climate fund.