By Faranaaz Parker, Mail and Guardian Mail, December 5, 2011
The European Union's so-called "Durban Roadmap" -- a plan to conclude negotiations on a legally binding treaty by 2015 -- has been gaining traction with other parties at the COP17 climate negotiations. But the United States is still putting off moves towards a legally binding treaty.
Thomasz Chruszczow, head of the Polish delegation speaking on behalf of the EU, said the idea was advancing because many parties see that the goal of keeping global warming within two degrees requires urgent action. He pointed out that the UN's scientific bodies have issued a spate of reports in recent weeks highlighting the need for action to prevent irreversible climate change.
"Many parties can see that waiting until 2015 or even longer to start discussing the next steps in building an international climate regime would be simply too late. And we all know that this process of multilateral negotiations takes time," he said.
Chruszczow said getting an agreement on the roadmap with clear timelines for completion was an "absolute priority" for the EU. The EU has also made it clear that getting agreement on the roadmap is one of its pre-requisites for agreeing to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.
US hangs back
Meanwhile, the US's special deputy special envoy Jonathan Pershing has said he believes the major emerging economies have a "strong resistance" to a legally binding agreement. He reiterated the US's position that it would not agree to such an plan if it did not include commitments from major emitters such as China and India.
"This is not a new discussion," he said, pointing out that this was why the US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol set emission reduction targets for developed countries but asked only for voluntary reductions from developing countries, including rapidly growing economies like China and India.
Although a number of the parties at the negotiations have put forward time frames by which a legally binding agreement should be in force -- ranging from 2015 to 2020 -- the US has held firm that such an agreement need only be made after 2020.
Pershing rejected the idea that a failure to agree to a new legal framework would be based on demonstrated inaction, saying action was not conditioned on a legal form.
"Given that the objective of our effort is not a piece of paper, it's a change in the emissions, in that sense we had a huge success in Cancun, and legal [form] didn't have to be part of it to attain that goal," he said.
However, COP16, held in Cancun last year, was generally regarded as a modest success at which parties concluded only a weak agreement.
Developing countries deliberate
Despite the fact that the EU roadmap has become one of the talking points of COP17, Environmental and Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the proposal was merely one of many tabled by various parties and that it was too early to say whether it would emerge as the dominant proposal. "We cannot say that we will go with this one ... but we will put our heads together and come up with synergies," she said.
Earlier this week Molewa admitted that three of the major negotiating blocs -- the African Union, G77 Plus China and the Basic group, which includes Brazil, South Africa, India and China -- had discussed the EU's plan and agreed it was "a good roadmap".
Observers say the EU roadmap generally aligns with what many developing countries are already calling for -- a framework for arriving at a legally binding agreement in the near future -- and that developing countries are set on agreeing a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol but that more still needs to be done before the various blocs can arrive at a common position
The negotiators will up the ante next week when ministers and heads of state arrive for the political side of the negotiations. Twelve heads of state have already confirmed their attendance next week.