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October 10, 2011 10:35 pm
Governments are looking at a new plan to make sure the Kyoto treaty does not completely collapse at next month’s climate talks, the UN’s top climate diplomat has revealed.
A negotiators’ meeting in Panama last week ahead of the Durban summit showed a willingness to consider a “letter of intent” obliging governments to “move towards a comprehensive agreement that would be binding to all at some point in time”, said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Climate Change.
It is not clear when that point in time might be, but Ms Figueres said the Panama meeting showed negotiations were “more on track than I had expected”.
The Kyoto protocol forged in the Japanese city of the same name in 1997 remains the world’s only global treaty to cap greenhouse gas emissions.
But it only commits wealthy countries to such cuts until the end of 2012 and did not end up including the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, China and the US.
Attempts to agree on a second commitment period, or a new version of a global deal, have repeatedly floundered, most spectacularly at the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen.
That has led to an impasse, as developing countries and China insist there must be another round of Kyoto cuts, while countries such as Japan, Russia and Canada say they will not agree to such a move alone.
This has led to fears among some observers that the Durban talks, which run from November 28 to December 9, could result in being the site of the death of the Kyoto treaty.
But the European Union, which Ms Figueres praised as a helpful player in the process, has come up with what some hope will be a middle way of getting countries to “agree to agree” on a new treaty, at some point in the future.
John Ashton, the UK foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change, welcomed the move. “Durban is not going to be a breakthrough moment, but what we have to avoid is a breakdown,” he said.
Ms Figueres was speaking at a climate conference at Chatham House in London, where Nick Mabey, chief executive of the environmental group E3G, welcomed her comments.
“This is the first time we have seen a signal that countries are willing to maximise their flexibility inside their negotiating mandates and avoid grandstanding over old issues,” he said.
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