UN climate talks begin divided, but with hope for Paris accord

Chances that governments will work out a UN accord to combat climate change in December seem brighter than in the run-up to a failed attempt in 2009, experts said as delegates from almost 200 nations met on Monday, hoping to bridge deep divisions.

Memories of a UN summit in Copenhagen in December 2009, when world leaders including US President Barack Obama failed to work out a deal intended to avert more heatwaves, floods and rising seas, hang over the talks in Bonn.

“We’re closer to an agreement” than at the same time before Copenhagen, Elina Bardram, head of the European Commission delegation, told Reuters. “But there’s a lot still to be done.”

Senior government officials began five days of talks in the former West German capital aiming to cut an unwieldy 83-page draft text in the penultimate preparatory session before a Nov. 30-Dec. 11 summit in Paris.

Paris is not the end of the process, it is the start of the process.

Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate ambassador

The text contains a mix of ideas. Some poor nations are calling for an end to all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in contrast with OPEC countries’ preference for no deadlines.

“Chances of success are much better” than in the run-up to Copenhagen, Yvo de Boer, who was the UN climate chief at the Copenhagen conference and is now head of the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul, told Reuters.

He said that both the United States and China were more engaged this time, the new accord was based largely on voluntary offers to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and ambitions for an all-encompassing fix to climate change were lower.

The United Nations has said Paris will only be a step towards achieving a long-term goal of limiting a rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times.

“Paris is not the end of the process, it is the start of the process,” Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate ambassador, told delegates. She urged more focus on action from 2015 to 2020, when the Paris accord will enter into force.

Time is running short because there will only be another five-day session of talks in October, also in Bonn, before the Paris summit. “We need to work faster,” China’s chief delegate Su Wei told Reuters.

The main group of emerging nations branded a revised draft text for Bonn “unbalanced”, saying it played down its calls for a mechanism to compensate for loss and damage caused by, for example, rising sea levels.

Some developing nation delegates told the opening session that tropical storm Erika, which killed more than 20 people on the Caribbean island of Dominica last week, was a harbinger of worse to come from a build-up of greenhouse gases.

The consensus among climate scientists is that it is usually impossible to pin any single disaster on man-made global warming, but if left unchecked it will produce more extreme storms, floods and droughts over time.

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