Oct 14, 2010 11:56 AM

Climate Talks Limp Toward Doha-Like Deadlock

(Tianjin) - A battered and scarred negotiating text lay limp on the table at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Tianjin. Negotiators staring down at the pages clearly understood the need to narrow differences and expand consensus if they hoped to lay a foundation for the next global conference in Cancun, Mexico, scheduled for the end of the year.

As in the past at climate talks, however, the Tianjin convention was marked by international friction and little action. Negotiators refused to make concessions and instead repeatedly broadcast pessimistic signals. Scars on the text remain.

The October 4-9 event at the Meijiang Convention and Exhibition Center was the first hosted by China in the 20-year history of the talks, which are designed to reduce man's impact on the planet's climate. But there was nothing new about the dead-end results.

Sino-U.S. Dispute

China and the United States, for example, maintained their contentious relationship at the negotiating table as the world's top emitters of greenhouse gases. They have been seen as key to determining the success or failure of the negotiations, and their nearly predictable dispute once again took center stage.

U.S. delegates brandished well-worn weapons. They said China should not lump itself with all other developing countries at the talks, but rather should be included within the scope of legally binding emissions reductions. The U.S. side also argued that voluntary emissions reduction measures by developing countries including China should adhere to requirements for so-called "measurability, reportability and verifiability," or MRV.

Chinese delegates see these as presumptuous demands. According to Chinese negotiators, the first demand violates the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities," while the latter violates the sovereignty rights of developing nations.

The 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change ended with developing countries committing to bringing emissions reduction activities in line with MRV requirements, with assistance from international sources. Voluntary emissions reduction activities supported by domestic capital would be subject to international "consultation and analysis" to foster respect for sovereignty. But developing countries would have the right to determine when to take an initiative for consultation and analysis.

Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation and deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, told Chinese and foreign media that linking China's acceptance of MRV requirements with aid to small, island nations by developed countries had sown discord among developing nations. He said the aid projects fail to meet the requirements of international negotiations.

Chinese non-governmental organizations at the Tianjin sessions pressured U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern with an open letter calling on the United States not to use China as an excuse for inaction. The letter sparked discussions outside the negotiations as well.

But one Chinese environmental group source expressed doubts about the letter's possible impact. "The American delegation has received a lot of open letters" urging action, the source said. "They've become numb."

Even expectations among negotiators were low, with the disputes failing to energize what was for the most part a placid atmosphere in Tianjin.

Indeed, the conference was far quieter than the Copenhagen climate change conference, where developed countries committed an additional US$ 30 billion in climate change aid to developing countries by 2012 that, although it was supposed to flow rapidly, has yet to come.

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