January 20, 2010 8:25 pm

UN abandons climate change deadline

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The timetable to reach a global deal to tackle climate change lay in tatters on Wednesday after the United Nations waived the first deadline of the process laid out at last month’s fractious Copenhagen summit.

Nations agreed then to declare their emissions reduction targets by the end of this month. Developed countries would state their intended cuts by 2020: developing countries would outline how they would curb emissions growth.

But Yvo de Boer, the UN’s senior climate change official, admitted the deadline had in effect been shelved.

“By [the end of] January, countries will have the opportunity to . . . indicate if they want to be associated with the accord,” he said. “[Governments could] indicate by the deadline, or they can also indicate later.”

“You could describe it as a soft deadline,” Mr de Boer said. “There is nothing deadly about it. If [countries] fail to meet it, they can still associate with the Copenhagen accord after.”

Countries pushing for a new legally binding treaty on climate change will be disappointed, as The waiving of the deadline sets a bad precedent for efforts to finalise a deal this year. The next scheduled meeting is not until late May, in Germany, with another in late November, in Mexico but many officials say more will be needed.

India, China, Brazil and South Africa, which meet this weekend, are likely to insist on deep cuts from developed nations but offer few concessions of their own.

The result of Tuesday’s Massachusetts senatorial election, which took away Barack Obama’s super-majority in the Senate, is likely to push climate change further down the US agenda. It was the latest in a series of setbacks that have caused efforts to push a cap-and-trade bill through the Senate to grind to a halt, making it harder for the White House to participate meaningfully in global climate negotiations.

Instead, the administration has been pressing ahead with steps to limit the US’s carbon emissions through regulation. The Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled new draft rules that would sharply tighten regulations on smog-building pollutants, or ground-level ozone, and has cracked down on greenhouse gas emissions by ruling that carbon dioxide and five other gases pose a danger to health.

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