LONDON - The EU could yet table a proposal that would throw the beleaguered Kyoto Protocol a lifeline and secure the future of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) beyond 2012, government negotiators and observers have told Point Carbon News.
Officials from the bloc's member states will in the next few weeks discuss whether to formally back a plan to extend the life of the 1997 climate treaty, on condition it would expire in 2018 and be replaced with a single global pact that includes capping all major nations' emissions.
If all 27 countries agree, the EU could announce the plan at U.N. climate talks in South Africa in November as part of an attempt to overcome the four-year impasse over Kyoto's future and how to tackle the long-term problem of climate change.
Such an agreement could bolster confidence in the CDM, for which new investment shrank to a fifth of its peak last year as U.N. negotiators tied the future of the offsetting system to new targets under the Kyoto pact that underpins it.
"It's not a formal EU position yet, although it is something that has gained ground in recent months," said one senior EU negotiator who requested anonymity.
"We see there are a lot of parties that want to maintain the Kyoto Protocol and its rules-based system� maybe it's possible to preserve the rules, but not ratify (a second period)," he added.
The 27 EU states will discuss the proposal ahead of an October meeting of environment ministers, which is when the bloc is expected to agree a collective negotiating position for the year-end U.N. climate negotiations in Durban.
Earlier this year, the EU rebuffed an offer by developing nations to unilaterally sign a second Kyoto period in return for extending the CDM, the offsets from which are used by EU nations to meet their emissions targets.
Since then the EU, which had said it couldn't agree to extend its Kyoto target without robust commitments from other major emitters like the U.S, China and India, has grappled with various ideas to help secure a global deal to prevent runaway climate change.
"To ratify (a second Kyoto period) will take countries years," said Mark Lynas, climate advisor to the president of the Maldives, a developing island nation highly vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet.
"This is for some kind of transitional legal arrangement to keep the Kyoto mechanisms in operation, or in some kind of suspended animation until a new Kyoto period is agreed," he told Point Carbon News.
It might also persuade other nations with Kyoto targets to agree to a transitional measure that could keep the pact's strict auditing system and carbon markets working without immediately taking on new internationally-binding pledges.
Green groups and developing countries want a second Kyoto phase to preserve the pact's system of independently verified emission reductions rather than a voluntary pledge-and-review system that major emitters are lobbying for, but have yet to agree the rules.
Canada, Russia and Japan have all ruled out ratifying a second phase of targets, despite the Japanese government spending hundreds of millions of dollars in buying Kyoto-backed carbon credits to meet caps.
"These EU parties (backing the plan) do not want to kill the Kyoto Protocol," said Hans Verolme, a Germany-based consultant who works for environmental groups including WWF.
"The sense I'm getting is that some sort of decision will be taken in Durban where countries move into negotiating a legally-binding outcome in the LCA track," he added, referring to the wider negotiating forum that includes the US, a non-Kyoto party.
Reporting by Ben Garside