US, India Pessimistic Over UN Climate Talks

  • Date: 13/02/10

Persistent divergences over UN climate negotiations augur tough times ahead, US and Indian negotiators indicated at a Brussels event on Friday (11 February). Jonathan Pershing, US deputy special envoy for climate change, put the problems down to a history of fundamental disagreements about what the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stands for.

“At one end, many countries perceive this as a venue in which all issues are on the table – it’s a conversation about development and about the global correction for that. At the other end, you’ve got a community who see this as a narrow environmental problem,” he told the annual conference of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).

While Copenhagen brought recognition that the convention can no longer be about a narrow environmental agenda, it will become a roadblock if it seeks to solve every problem, he said.

“It will be a context in which no action can be taken because all action can’t be taken at once. And I think to a certain extent, that’s what happened in the Copenhagen discussion,” Pershing said. But he refused to view the Copenhagen Accord – a non-binding agreement adopted at the end of the gruelling two-week talks – as a failure.

“I’ve been disappointed and frankly surprised by the kind of reaction the accord has generated,” said Pershing.

He argued that in fact the agreement signified a “substantial and significant shift”. It inscribed for the first time a clear objective for avoiding dangerous global warming by referring to a 2°C limit, and agreed on the scale of global funds needed for adaptation, he said.

But Surya Sethi, the Indian government’s core negotiator on climate change, retorted that 80% of the world’s population live in developing countries and they do not view the outcome of Copenhagen as a success.

“I think it has been well documented by now that the poorly-organised COP15 was a failure, if not a total failure,” Sethi said. He described US President Barack Obama’s negotiation tactics as a “coup d’état” for trying to merge the Kyoto Protocol’s two negotiating tracks, under which developing countries are not required to take on emission reduction commitments.

“The structure and the regime that the Copenhagen Accord sought to implant resulted from a new parallel process that was simply incompatible with the UNFCCC’s inclusive, democratic process,” Sethi stated, repeating the procedural issue that derailed negotiations throughout the latter part of last year.

The Indian negotiator argued that the Accord has little support in the developing world and was not even mentioned by India and China in their submissions to the UNFCCC, in which they outlined their pledges at the end of January.

“In my view, the negotiations going forward – and this is my personal view – are going to be even more torturous because a poorly-drafted accord which is open to multiple interpretations will keep haunting the two-track process under the UNFCCC,” Sethi warned.

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