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ANALYSIS - Backers of UN climate treaty look to 2010 for deal

OSLO (Reuters) - U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen in December are unlikely to agree a legally binding treaty and even backers of a robust pact are reluctantly starting to look to new deadlines in 2010.

After months of saying there is no “Plan B” despite bogged-down negotiations, the United Nations, host Denmark and some other European countries say Copenhagen may at best reach a political deal to step up the fight against global warming.

That is a setback for those hoping that the Dec. 7-18 conference will end with a treaty text that would be sent to all countries to be ratified and thus gain legal teeth. Agreeing to extra talks in 2010 risks a loss of momentum.

“I’d say it’s 99 percent certain that we won’t reach some kind of ratifiable agreement in Copenhagen,” said Bill Hare, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and an expert on the U.N. negotiations.

“I don’t believe we will get a full, ratifiable, legally binding agreement from Copenhagen,” said Hanne Bjurstroem, Norwegian cabinet minister and chief climate negotiator. Norway has been among the strongest supporters of a treaty.

Bjurstroem said Oslo was still pressing for a legally binding deal. She added that Norway and neighbouring Sweden, current holder of the European Union presidency, favoured a new U.N. conference in early 2010 if Copenhagen fell short.

Among big hurdles to a deal, the U.S. Senate is unlikely to agree domestic climate legislation before the Copenhagen meeting.

Many experts say any delayed U.N. deal would have to be struck in early 2010 to put pressure on the Senate and U.N. negotiators. About one-third of the Senate faces elections in Nov. 2010 and may lose focus on climate as the vote nears.


The option of waiting until the next annual meeting of environment ministers, in December 2010 in Mexico, was too far off, Bjurstroem said. The only deadline under the U.N.’s existing Kyoto Protocol is that a first period of curbs on emissions by industrialised countries ends on Dec. 31, 2012.

Mark Kenber, policy director of the Climate Group in London, said it was “a dangerous game” to pin the fate of U.N. negotiations on a bill in the U.S. Senate, adding: “What if the Senate doesn’t deliver? Does it all unravel?”

Janos Pasztor, climate adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has long urged a binding deal, said on Monday more talks were likely in 2010.

He said Ban believed we must “continue to aim for an ambitious politically binding agreement in Copenhagen that would chart the way for future post-Copenhagen negotiations that lead to a legally binding global agreement”.

One week of U.N. climate talks remains, in Barcelona from Nov. 2 to 6, to try to end a rich-poor divide before Copenhagen.

China and India say industrialised countries should cut emissions by 2020 by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels -- far more than average cuts on offer of between 11 and 15 percent -- and want billions of dollars in aid and new technology.

Rich countries led by the United States, the number two emitter behind China, say developing nations must do more to slow rising emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels. However, the recession has hit willingness to act.

A political declaration in Copenhagen, similar to those agreed at Group of Eight summits, outlining goals for combating climate change by 2020 or 2050, could mark a step forward if taken seriously.

And even treaty texts can unravel.

In December 1997, the world agreed on the Kyoto Protocol in the Japanese city of the same name. That deal was then sent to national parliaments for ratification. Washington never ratified it, even after agreeing to curbs in Kyoto.

On Oct. 24, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said U.N. talks were “painfully slow” and urged world leaders to make binding political promises for action from January 2010.

He said such a deal in Copenhagen “will provide ... guidance for our lawyers to finalise the details of the internationally legal binding agreement.”

The United Nations has set out five essentials for a deal in Copenhagen: aid to help the poor adapt to climate change, deep cuts in emissions by industrial countries, actions by developing countries to slow rising emissions, more financial aid and green technology, and a new system to oversee finances.

Yvo de Boer, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said in India last week the five elements could be part of a decision in Copenhagen even without a treaty.

“Such a decision would also need to launch a process and set a deadline for completing negotiations on a comprehensive outcome,” he said. He did not suggest a new deadline.