The latest round of preparatory talks for the U.N. climate conference concluded today with negotiators lamenting that the languid pace of talks could mean there won't be a deal on emissions in Copenhagen this December.
"It would be incomprehensible if this opportunity were lost," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. For any hope of a deal, he said, "the speed of the negotiations must be considerably accelerated at the [next] meeting in Bangkok."
The United States' lead climate negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, added to the warnings.
"If we don't have more movement and more consensus than we saw here, we won't have an agreement," Pershing said.
Though the problems were many, there were also glimmers of hope in the current round, such as a collective agreement on what should be done, said Anders Turesson, Sweden's lead climate negotiator and chairman of the E.U. working group.
"What we're talking about is a profound change of industrial civilization," Turesson said. "It would be surprising if there weren't stumbling blocks."
The negotiators were wrapping up a week of talks in Bonn, Germany, aimed at narrowing the number of options in the 200-page main negotiating document. This text, which will serve as the basis for negotiations for the successor to 1997's Kyoto Protocol, is currently inundated with some 2,000 bracketed statements highlighting areas of disagreement.
"We seem to be afloat on a sea of brackets," de Boer said. The document has not been significantly slimmed down in the week's discussions.
Much debate hinges on whether the U.S. Senate will pass climate legislation this fall. Pershing made it clear that the United States will use whatever domestic legislation it passes as the basis for its carbon reduction agreements.
"Our focus is not to repeat Kyoto," Pershing said, recalling the climate treaty that the United States helped negotiate but the Senate did not ratify.
The rosiest interpretations of the House's recently passed climate bill would see U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropping by up to 13 percent from 1990 levels, de Boer said, well below commitments made by the European Union to reduce its emissions by 20 percent.
In the end, Europeans want to be on comparative terms with the Americans, Turesson said. How that will be accomplished is unclear, given the domestic limits the United States faces.
The U.S. position is that the agreement that will emerge, rather than mandating a single percentage cut that will be met by every wealthy nation, "is something [that will be] conceived country by country," Pershing said.
From developing nations, the United States is seeking not legally binding targets but legally binding actions, Pershing said. One such example would be a quantified commitment from Brazil on how it will tackle deforestation.
Developing nations have been seeking financing from developed countries if they are to limit their emissions and adapt to climate change. So far, there has not been one proposal from developed nations that would raise more than $10 billion a year for such funding, negotiators said.
Meanwhile, the commitments currently on the table from industrial countries will only reduce emissions between 10 and 16 percent from 1990 levels, according to Dessima Williams, the permanent representative of Grenada to the United Nations and chairwoman of the Alliance of Small Island States.
Unless changed, these pledges will lead to temperature change of more than 3 degrees Celsius, Williams said.
Such a temperature increase is well above the goal agreed to by the world's wealthiest nations at the Group of Eight summit in L'Aquila, Italy, last month. There, countries including the United States, Canada and Russia agreed to cap global warming at 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified a 25 percent to 40 percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels as necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change: heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
More than 2,000 representatives met in Bonn this week. The consultation, which was characterized as "informal," is the latest in a series of meetings leading up to the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen this December. Further meetings will take place in Bangkok in late September and Barcelona, Spain, in November.