TIANJIN, China China said on Friday rich nations must lock in fresh vows to slash greenhouse gas output to unblock talks for a new climate change deal, while some negotiators said Beijing was holding progress hostage.
The feuding over the future of a key U.N. treaty to fight climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, is dimming hopes that talks in the Chinese city of Tianjin can lay the foundation for agreement on a broader climate pact that could emerge next year.
The week-long talks wrap up on Saturday and are the last negotiation round before a high-level meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in less than two months.
Kyoto's first phase ends in 2012 and what happens after that is unclear, with disagreement over whether the pact should be extended or replaced with a new treaty that binds all big greenhouse gas polluting nations.
The quarrel is unsettling investors hoping for certainty on climate policies and financing that hinges on the negotiations agreeing on a tougher climate pact.
The United Nations is also growing increasingly worried the talks will stall and create a gap from 2013 that could undermine Kyoto's $2.7-billion carbon market.
"We're afraid that some people try to kill KP (the Kyoto Protocol)," said Huang Huikang, China's recently appointed Special Representative for Climate Change Negotiations.
Huang said advanced economies should clear a pathway for talks on the legal dimensions of the next phase from 2013 by locking in new vows to cut emissions blamed for global warming.
"Now the key issue is the lack of any substantive progress on the developed countries' side. If Annex 1 countries take the lead in the mitigation process, I suppose developing countries will do their part," said Huang.
"But the precondition is mitigation by developed countries and money, support for developing countries, as well as technology transfers. Without these preconditions, it's unfair to ask developing countries at this moment to do more," he told reporters.
Kyoto binds nearly 40 rich, or Annex 1, nations to meet emissions reduction targets, also called mitigation.
Under Kyoto, developing nations are obliged to take voluntary steps to curb the growth of their emissions.
Washington and other rich nations want a new global pact to reflect the surge in emissions from the developing world, now accounting for more than half of mankind's annual greenhouse gas pollution. They want poorer nations to sign up to legally binding emissions reduction steps.
Talks last year failed to agree on a binding treaty and climaxed in a bitter meeting in Copenhagen, which produced a non-binding accord that later recorded the emissions vows of participant countries.
Several delegates said China, backed by Brazil, were the two countries among the 177 governments in Tianjin holding up talks on legal issues raised by extending Kyoto after 2012.
One said China's blocking of the discussions could drag down agreement on issues such as funds to help poor societies cope with global warming and the transfer of green technologies.
"A generous interpretation is that they're doing this to keep Kyoto as they want it," said one negotiator from a smaller developing country. "But this will only encourage Western countries to argue that Kyoto is dead."
The dispute underscores how vulnerable the tortuous negotiations on climate change are to procedural disputes.
China is the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, having passed the United States, but its emissions per-capita remain well below Western levels.
China's emissions are set to keep growing for years to come, and it wants rich nations to slash theirs so that developing countries have the room to grow.
Huang, the Chinese climate envoy, said the developed nations under the Kyoto Protocol should now spell out that they "must reach the target of more than 40 percent emissions reduction based on the 1990 level," which is Kyoto's base year.
(Editing by David Fogarty)