UN Climate talks fail on another issue

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is conducting talks all this week in the Chinese port city of Tianjin. Delegates from 190 countries are taking part. It is the last conference before the UNFCCC tries again to write a binding, global treaty in Cancun, Mexico in December to limit green house gas (GHG) emissions. The attempt to reach agreement last December in Copenhagen failed due to the clash of national interests, particularly between the developed and developing nations. These conflicts have not abated.

An attempt to craft a smaller agreement covering maritime shipping has collapsed in Tianjin. The plan backed by Japan, Norway and the United States would have imposed an Energy Efficiency Design Index for new ship construction. There were also a number of schemes involving the trading of efficiency credits, a GHG fund established by the purchase of emissions reductions credits, and a port levy on emissions. A primary function of these so-called "market" solutions was to generate revenue to be given to developing countries to fund their adaption to climate change--- and to buy their support for the overall plan.

The plan had failed to reach a consensus at the meeting of the International Maritime Organization held the week before the Tianjin session. It is alleged that maritime shipping accounts for three percent of global GHG emissions.

The large developing nations, led by China, India, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, expressed opposition to it as a matter of principle; the principle being that the developed countries are to cut their emissions while schemes that affect the developing countries are not to be part of any binding or mandatory system. China has set as one of its goals becoming the world largest shipbuilder, and wants no interference by the UN or other foreign interests in its industrial development.

Shipping is not covered under the current Kyoto Protocol, but the developing countries want all talks to follow the Kyoto principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" which means all the burdens and expenses of combating climate change are to fall on the developed countries only. Developing countries may voluntarily undertake environmental programs, but it is their sovereign decision and must not interfere with economic growth. The argument was made that mandatory sector-wide measures on shipping would disproportionately impact their export-led economies.

On Monday, China opened the Tianjin talks by saying developing countries' right to grow must be guaranteed. Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo led his country's delegation. According to a report by the official Xinhua news service,


He suggested the negotiations should stick to the basic framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol and the mandate of the Bali Roadmap and follow the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."

The developed countries should set the targets to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and arrangements should be made to provide adequate financial and technological support to developing countries, he said.

"At a stage of accelerated industrialization and urbanization, China's energy demand will see further reasonable growth. Therefore, we face significant constraints in controlling greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

For most of the governments and people of the Earth, the doubtful call to "save the planet" by foregoing economic growth and "doing without" has no appeal.