UN Climate Proposal Leaves Open Option of Rich-Poor Firewall

Jul 08, 2014 12:26 pm ET

(Updates with comment from observers from fourth paragraph.)

July 8 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations left open the option for rich and poor nations to remain divided in their obligations on climate change, setting up a conflict over exactly who should cut greenhouse gases.

In a policy paper setting out possible language to include in a global warming agreement envoys from 190 nations are drawing up for next year, the UN set out an option for maintaining a divide between developed and developing nations.

Under current rules, industrial nations have targets for reducing fossil fuel emissions while developing countries need only take steps that they volunteer. The U.S. and European Union want all nations on an equal footing in the next climate deal, which the UN intends to conclude next year. Developing nations including China, the biggest polluter, say it’s up to the richer nations to act first.

“It doesn’t resolve the yawning gaps between positions,” Alden Meyer, an observer of the talks for more than two decades at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said today in a phone interview. He said the differences are those over the so-called firewall between industrialized nations and poorer ones, and over climate finance.

Durban Backtrack

The U.S. and European nations say the division was broken down at a round of talks in Durban, South Africa in 2011, where the mandate for the deal was established. China and India have contended that the Durban agreement didn’t change the nature of commitments to be made by developed and developing nations.

The document posted on the website of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change outlines ways to bridge the difference between the two groups in building a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which limits emissions in industrial nations only.

The document is called a non-paper in UN jargon, indicating it’s not an official negotiating text. It spells out what the two men chairing the talks, Kishan Kumarsingh of Trinidad and Tobago and the European Commission’s Artur Runge-Metzger, term “elements” of a draft negotiating text.

Those elements, presented as options in some places, contradict each other because they represent opposing interests of rich and poor countries.


Under a section of the document entitled “guiding principles,” one proposal would maintain the divisions enshrined in Kyoto. Another states that “a binary approach is not consistent with the current and evolving situation of the world and cannot be used as the basis for the 2015 agreement.”

“It’s important that everyone feels their vision is incorporated into the text,” said Amal-Lee Amin, Associate Director of E3G, a British non-profit group advocating sustainable development. “What it doesn’t reflect is any sense of convergence.”

The paper also lays out options for developed countries to ramp up annual climate aid to poorer ones to the $100 billion level they’ve pledged to reach by 2020. It calls for predictability of finance. Options range from not quantifying individual commitments to doing so based on a formula setting out percentages and agreed by all nations.

Negotiators intend to complete a full legal draft of the deal six months before a conference in Paris in December 2015. They aim to gather emissions pledges from all major economies by the end of the first quarter next year, and by all other nations by Aug. 31, 2015. The agreement would take effect from 2020, when Kyoto commitments expire.

‘Work Remains’

“A substantial amount of work remains ahead of us in order to arrive, within more or less the next nine months, at a draft legal text of the proposed agreement,” Kumarsingh and Runge- Metzger wrote in a separate note.

The paper proposes the establishment of a long-term common goal for the fight against climate change. Options for this include achieving carbon neutrality, setting a limit on the global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), an unspecified maximum concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a carbon budget spelling out how much carbon can be emitted and by which countries.

--With assistance from Mathew Carr in London.