United States Shows Signs of Flexibility at UN Climate Discussions

From Bloomberg Business Week

By Kim Chipman

President Barack Obama’s envoy at United Nations global-warming negotiations said he’s willing to participate in discussions on the issue of fairness in how nations plan to curb climate change, paving the way for drafting a new treaty by 2015.

Todd Stern, the State Department official heading the U.S. delegation at the UN climate conference in Doha, also acknowledged yesterday that the U.S. has more work to do to reduce fossil-fuel emissions.

“As President Obama said just a few weeks ago, we need to do more and we intend to do more,” he told delegates.

Stern’s remarks, coming three days before the meeting concludes, addressed two of the three thorniest topics that divide more than 190 nations working toward a pact on limiting greenhouse gases, starting in 2020.

“It’s a big shift,” said Alden Meyer, who follows the talks for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in an interview yesterday. “The tone was positive and the offer was positive. The issue he didn’t touch on was finance, and unless there’s a resolution on that, they’re going to say the U.S. is just talking.”

Stern, speaking to a gathering of environment ministers, said he was open to a discussion on the principle of “equity” and a provision in existing global warming agreements calling for “common but differentiated responsibilities,” or CBDR.

Principle Issue

Those concepts seek to ensure that all nations are treated fairly in reining in greenhouse gases, taking into account their wealth and historical pollution rates. Richer countries are concerned that developing countries will hide behind the principles to avoid fossil-fuel reductions.

The issue has been a sticking point for almost two decades. It created the division between industrial nations, which were required under the Kyoto Protocol to cut fossil-fuel emissions, and developing ones that to this day have no mandatory targets. Since that treaty was adopted in 1997, China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest polluter.

The U.S. has pushed for CBDR references to be removed from negotiation texts at the talks. China, India and Brazil lead developing nations in saying CBDR is a principle that was set down in the original 1992 treaty that started the climate talks and that the U.S. ratified.

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