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Climate change negotiators in Cancun look to bridge gaps

There's an expanding rift between developed and developing countries over whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions beyond the 2012 limits.

By Staff writer / December 4, 2010

Activists walk behind a banner reading "Climate" during a protest march against climate change in Mexico City December 3. China accused some developed nations at U.N. climate talks held in the Mexican beach resort of Cancun of seeking to kill the Kyoto Protocol pact to curb global warming.

Claudia Daut/Reuters

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UN-sponsored global climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, have recorded progress on several issues as negotiators wrap up the first of two weeks of work.

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At the same time, however, negotiators are looking for ways to bridge what for the moment seems to be an expanding rift between developed and developing countries over whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol beyond the end of its first enforcement period. The protocol requires countries it covers to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by an average of 5.5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Brinkmanship is nothing new in diplomatic negotiations. Experienced negotiators caution that talks such as these tend to get testy as the first week ends and ministers with the political authority to make deals begin to arrive for a second week of higher-level talks.

Still, the dispute “is hanging like the sword of Damocles over this conference,” says Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union’s lead negotiator.

The broad positions of each group aren’t a secret.

Industrial countries want to see the US and developing countries, especially burgeoning economies represented by China and India, accept international, legally binding measures to deal with their greenhouse gas emissions – even if for developing nations those don’t immediately involve economy-wide emissions reductions. Developing countries, however, are reluctant to make legally binding commitments unless developed countries continue to do likewise via the Kyoto Protocol.

Japan threw the issue into stark relief when talks opened Monday, however, by announcing it would not take part in a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. Since then, three other countries covered by the protocol reportedly have made similar declarations.

By week’s end, a small but vocal group of developing countries led by Venezuela and Bolivia threw down a gauntlet: No second Kyoto period? No package of agreements coming out of Cancun to help bring elements of last year’s Copenhagen Accord formally under the UN climate process.

The accord is a non-binding agreement. It failed to earn formal recognition under the UN process last year, although some 140 countries have since signed on to it.

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