WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World leaders pledged last week to step up efforts to reach a U.N. deal to fight climate change, but they will have to match rhetoric with rapid action to break a crippling deadlock before a December deadline.
At a United Nations meeting on climate change in New York and a subsequent summit of G20 leaders in Pittsburgh, leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama to Chinese President Hu Jintao laid out measures to advance talks on global warming.
It was not enough.
With only two and a half months to go before 190 nations gather in Copenhagen to forge a successor to the emissions-capping pact known as the Kyoto Protocol, urgency for a breakthrough on key topics of disagreement is growing.
Progress on those outstanding roadblocks did not emerge from either meeting. Industrial and developing nations remain at odds over how to spread out greenhouse gas emission curbs.
Hu promised China would reduce its emissions compared to economic growth and Obama got G20 leaders to agree to phase out subsidies on oil and other fossil fuels, but the issue of climate finance — aid from industrial countries to developing nations dealing with climate change — went largely untouched.
“We will intensify our efforts, in cooperation with other parties, to reach agreement in Copenhagen,” G20 leaders said in a final statement on Friday, directing finance ministers, again, to study climate finance issues and report back at their next meeting.
That has happened before.
At a July G8 meeting in Italy, Obama said leaders had tasked G20 finance ministers to report back on the financing issue in Pittsburgh, but arguments over whether the G20 was the right body to do such work hampered negotiations, and leaders could not agree on even a basic framework in Pittsburgh despite lofty promises made at the United Nations days before.
“It was like the tale of two cities,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “You started on a high note in New York and it ended on a low note in Pittsburgh.”
Developing nations are waiting for their industrial counterparts to pony up promises of cash before they will agree to discuss emissions curbs for their growing economies.
“The burden really falls on the U.S., Europe and Japan to rectify this before Copenhagen or there’s not going to be the basis for a meaningful agreement,” Meyer said.
“Among leaders at this point in time, the least common denominator on climate financing turns out to be zero, and that’s doesn’t augur well.”
Leaders acknowledged the urgency. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for heads of state and government to meet again before December to discuss climate, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi indicated a meeting of some kind would take place in New York in the coming weeks.
U.S. deputy national security adviser Michael Froman, Obama’s top G20 aide, said no meeting was planned but leaders realized they held the key to moving the talks forward.
“My sense is they will continue to have conversations because they did conclude that their involvement in this issue will be important to making Copenhagen a success,” Froman told reporters on Friday.
Obama will be eyed especially in the coming weeks.
The U.S. president’s leadership on climate change has been called into question as chances dim that the Senate will pass a bill before December to cut U.S. emissions — a step seen as crucial to the international process.
“How much work can the Senate get done between now and Copenhagen depends in part on how much the administration presses the Senate to get done,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.
With healthcare reform dominating the congressional agenda, Obama’s commitment to pushing for lawmakers to act on a climate bill, too, was an “open question,” she said.
“The fact that he put the fossil fuel subsidies issue on the table was a leadership step, but countries were expecting considerably more steps than that one,” she said.
Climate negotiators meet in Bangkok on Monday for formal U.N. talks and again on November 2 in Barcelona. The Copenhagen talks begin on December 7. (Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Doina Chiacu)