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UPDATED: June 13, 2011 NO. 24 JUNE 16, 2011
Climate Talks Lack Weight
Countries argue over climate issues holding little hope for the Durban climate change conference later this year


CLIMATE CONUNDRUM: Representatives attend the UN climate change conference in Bonn on June 7 (HAN MO) 

Although the United States is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has always played an important role in international cooperation on climate change. At the 2007 UN climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, U.S. support at the last minute ensured the passage of the Bali Action Plan. Again, at the Copenhagen conference two years later, the United States played a dramatic role in helping forge the Copenhagen Accord. At the Cancun conference last year, the United States reached an understanding with other major parties. They deliberately avoided arguing on issues where there were great differences and thus reached the Cancun Agreements. But given the stagnation of the U.S. economy, President Barack Obama may postpone efforts to address his ambitions on climate change to a possible second term as his first term draws to an end.

After its frustration at the Copenhagen conference, the EU's interest in promoting international cooperation on coping with climate change sharply declined. The sweeping global financial crisis and economic recession have also played a hand in changing the EU's negotiation behavior. Since some EU members are caught in national debt crises, they are under pressure to adjust their climate policies.

The European Parliament passed an energy and climate change package in 2008. The package displayed its image as a pioneer in tackling climate change, but could not save its weakening status in the negotiations. At the Bonn conference, the EU has been unsure about its stance on the Kyoto Protocol, which it once promoted.

China, India, Brazil and South Africa, known as BASIC countries, have presented a more distinctive image as a new force in international climate change talks. The four countries held their seventh ministerial meeting on climate change in Durban on May 28-29, where they exchanged information and coordinated positions before the Bonn conference.

Although BASIC countries stress unity among all developing countries, differences within this huge developing camp are already apparent. It becomes more difficult for them to strike a balance with developed countries as well as other developing countries. Developed countries say BASIC countries are responsible for two thirds of the current rise in greenhouse gas emissions, and they will not pay for this. Meanwhile, small island countries, the least developed countries and African countries do not think BASIC countries can represent their interests.

After Bonn, differences on the negotiating texts being prepared for Durban will remain. As the host country, South Africa will try its best to push for positive results. It is expected to adopt a more flexible and inclusive manner in the negotiations and build a bridge between developed countries and developing countries. But it is unrealistic to expect the Durban conference to adopt a comprehensive, balanced and legally binding political treaty.

The Kyoto Protocol may come to an end amid delays of negotiating parties. Major differences between developed and developing countries are also unlikely to be narrowed in the near future. Hopefully, the Durban conference will make progress on the Green Climate Fund and other specific issues, which have been discussed over and over and witnessed an overall consensus.

The author is deputy director of the Department for World Economy and Development of the China Institute of International Studies

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