U.N. climate talks bogged down, need impetus

GENEVA (Reuters) - Talks on a U.N. climate pact have become bogged down like “walking in wet sand” but a U.N. summit this month could give impetus for a deal due in December, the head of a key U.N. negotiating group said on Wednesday.

Smoke billows from the chimneys of a power station in New Delhi September 2, 2009. REUTERS/Vijay Mathur

Michael Zammit Cutajar, who chairs a group of 190 nations working on the planned climate pact due to be sealed in Copenhagen on December 18, said a draft text was still 200 pages or more long despite efforts to cut back at a U.N. meeting in mid-August.

“I think we’re walking through wet sand. There’s masses of text,” Zammit Cutajar told Reuters on the sidelines of a World Climate Conference in Geneva, a separate U.N. initiative trying to find ways to improve information about the climate.

He said that a draft climate treaty in October 1997, two months before the existing Kyoto Protocol was agreed, was around 30 pages long. “That’s something people can get their brain around. At 200 pages no one will read the whole thing.”

“We are in a much more difficult negotiation than Kyoto,” he said, adding that a Copenhagen accord “can’t be just a political declaration.” The text outlines ideas ranging from taxes on aviation to ways to invest in forests to help soak up carbon.

Still, he saw chances for a change of gear, especially when U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosts a summit of world leaders about global warming in New York on September 22.

“The New York summit...could get the big political bosses to tell their guys ‘start moving’,” said Zammit Cutajar, who is from Malta. Among other meetings, leaders of the Group of 20 will meet in Pittsburgh on September 24-25.

In the U.N. climate talks, Zammit Cutajar’s group is looking at how to widen the fight against climate change beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which binds only industrialized countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions until 2012.


Countries such as China and India want the rich to promise deep reductions in emissions by 2020 and say their own priority has to be on ending poverty. Rich nations want assurances that developing nations will sign up for more climate action.

The next round of climate talks is in Bangkok from September 28 to October 9, followed by a week in Barcelona from November 2-6 with the Copenhagen meeting, gathering environment ministers from around the world, from December 7-18.

Zammit Cutajar said he agreed with an assessment in mid-August by Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, that a Copenhagen deal would not be reached unless the pace of talks accelerated.

“Obviously there are a lot of tactics here, people will play their cards later rather than sooner. But they have to start,” he said.

He also said that nations could make progress without addressing core points like how much money developed nations should provide to help developing countries cope with more wildfires, floods, desertification, disease or rising seas.

“There are so many questions around money other than the sum: where are you going to get it from...who is going to manage it...who will be eligible for it?” he said.

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Editing by Charles Dick