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Skirmishes renewed at UN climate conference

Delegates to the first UN climate talks after Copenhagen have agreed to intensify their negotiations on curbing greenhouse gases before this year's decisive ministerial conference in Cancun.

world Updated: Apr 12, 2010 15:55 IST

Delegates to the first UN climate talks after Copenhagen have agreed to intensify their negotiations on curbing greenhouse gases before this year's decisive ministerial conference in Cancun.

The agreement itself is a tacit acknowledgment of the slow progress in reaching a global climate pact followed three days of at times rancorous discussions that nearly ground to a halt. It was an early warning that the split between industrial countries and the developing world will likely continue characterizing the talks.

Bolivian delegate Pablo Solon said on Monday that he was pleased with Sunday's agreement made no mention of the Copenhagen Agreement, a political deal hastily cobbled together by President Barack Obama and a handful of other national leaders at the end of the UN talks in December.

"Despite continual attempts by the US to make the completely unacceptable Copenhagen Accord, the basis for future negotiations, I am glad to say "they failed," Solon said in a statement.

The delegates from 175 parties spent most of their time in Bonn squabbling over seemingly minor procedural issues surrounding how to conduct the negotiations for the rest of the year, including the authorization of a committee chairwoman to prepare a draft text for the next meeting in June.

The tension reflected the deep divide over how to treat the Copenhagen Accord, and many countries even among the 120 countries that supported the accord denounced the closed-door manner in which it was negotiated, and voiced disappointment that its emissions requirements were only voluntary.

After the letdown of Copenhagen, delegates and officials appeared determined to dampen expectations of a final deal being reached in 2010, and said, negotiations are almost certain to stretch past the next major conference in December in Cancun, Mexico.

"We should not be striving to get answers to each and every question in Cancun," Yvo de Boer, head of the UN climate secretariat, said on Sunday.

"The quest to address climate change is a long journey, and achieving perfection takes practice." The final agreement is meant to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has provisions capping greenhouse gas emissions by industrial countries that expire in 2012. The new accord would be expanded to curtail emissions by swiftly developing countries like China, which already has surpassed the United States as the world's biggest polluter.

At a final session in Bonn on Sunday, delegates wrangled over wording that implied a lesser status for the Copenhagen Accord. Also on the table was a draft treaty painstakingly negotiated among more than 190 countries over the last two years, but which leaves many core issues unresolved.

"This is not even a negotiating decision," chairwoman Margaret Mukahanana Sangarwe said in frustration, trying to cut off the debate. "If we can't agree on this, then we may have problems when we really start negotiating."

The Copenhagen Accord sets a goal of limiting the increase in the Earth's average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from preindustrial levels, but does not specify how that should be done.

It asks industrial countries to set targets for reducing carbon dioxide and other polluting gases causing global warming, while asking developing countries to submit national plans for slowing their emissions growth. It also calls for international monitoring to ensure those goals are met, but does not set any penalties. US chief delegate Jonathan Pershing said, the accord was a package deal, and rejected suggestions "in which certain elements are cherry picked."

Pershing also confirmed Washington opposed granting financial help to countries that refused to sign onto the Copenhagen deal, which included a $30 billion three-year package of aid for handling climate emergencies and helping poor countries turn to low-carbon growth.

"Countries that are not part of the accord would not be given substantial funding under the accord," Pershing said. "It's not a free rider process."

On Saturday, Bolivia's Solon, an ambassador to the United Nations, protested the cut-off of funds from the US Global Climate Change initiative as "a very bad practice" and an attempt to put pressure on countries to support the agreement.

Bolivia is holding a grass-roots World Peoples Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth on April 19-22, with the aim of presenting an alternative agenda for consideration by UN climate delegates.

First Published: Apr 12, 2010 15:48 IST