By John Vidal and Fiona Harvey, The Guardian (Friday 9 December 2011)
The "roadmap" to a new legal framework for a global climate change deal beyond 2020 is set out in the text of a proposed deal that governments will be asked to sign at the UN climate change talks in Durban on Friday night.
The text, seen by the Guardian, follows most of the "EU roadmap" towards a new global agreement, which has been the subject of frantic negotiations in the final hours of the two-week conference, scheduled to end on Friday.
However, there are crucial differences, and it will be difficult for some countries, including India and China, to sign up to the text as it stands.
The text requires countries to "launch a process in order to develop a legal framework applicable to all" developed and developing countries. That means a framework agreement under which countries would commit to fresh targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, "after 2020" when their current – but non-binding – targets run out.
The phrase "legal framework" falls short of the "legally binding treaty" that the EU wants, but may be vague enough to allow the US – which is wary of a new treaty – to agree.
That negotiating process should "begin immediately" and the negotiations should finish "as early as possible but no later than 2015", which is what the EU wants. The US, however, has strongly objected to setting such a date.
In return for backing this roadmap, the EU has offered to continue the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012 when the current first commitment period expires. In the text seen by the Guardian, that legal commitment would not begin until next year.
Currently, there are two working groups at the climate talks, one of which discusses the Kyoto protocol and the other works under its parent treaty, the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The US is signatory to the latter, but has never ratified the Kyoto protocol, so it only takes part in one of the groups.
Under the text, the Kyoto protocol working group would effectively stop work immediately. The EU would have to submit its plans for the second commitment period by next May.
The date 2020 has been set for any new global climate agreement to kick in has been chosen because under the deals signed at the talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancún in 2010, most countries – including all the major developed and developing economies – have taken on emissions pledges that run to the end of this decade. But these pledges are voluntary, and the issue over whether a new agreement should be legally binding instead of voluntary is one of the most difficult at the talks.
Some countries, including the US and China, are happy to stick to a voluntary system, but others, including the EU, argue that this is inadequate to spur the investment needed in a green economy, because politicians can easily renege on non-binding commitments.