LE BOURGET — With only hours left to produce a global climate accord, rifts emerged today between Western countries and China and its allies over who should bear the most burden in reducing emissions and helping vulnerable nations cope with the rising seas and extreme weather that comes with global warming.
The issue has dogged climate negotiations for years and diplomats at the talks now underway outside Paris are hoping it won’t threaten a long-awaited deal. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry and other top officials shuttled among high-stakes meetings all day today in hopes of coming to a final agreement tomorrow.
But China’s deputy chief negotiator stood firm today on his nation’s demand that rich countries should assume most responsibility for the costs and argued against an agreement that sets too tough goals for weaning the world off using oil, gas and coal.
The talks, originally scheduled to end today, dragged into an extra day as the French hosts said they needed more time to overcome disputes.
Negotiators from more than 190 countries are aiming to create something that’s never been done before: an agreement for all countries to reduce man-made carbon emissions and cooperate in adapting to rising seas and fiercer weather caused by human activity.
The United States and European countries want to move away from so-called “differentiation” among economies and want big emerging countries like China and India to pitch in more in a final climate deal.
But Liu Zhenmin, deputy chief of the Chinese delegation, told reporters today that issue is “at the core of our concern for the Paris agreement”. He said he wants different rules for different countries “clearly stipulated” in the global warming pact, and insisted the demand is “quite legitimate”.
Liu also argued against sharply limiting the number of degrees the planet warms this century, because that would involve huge lifestyle and economic changes.
“We need heating. We need air conditioning. You need to drive your car,” he said.
Divisions surfaced today among big developing countries, too, as Brazil joined a coalition of Western countries and some developing ones pushing for a “high-ambition” accord. Liu dismissed the high-ambition coalition as a “performance”.
Ban Ki-moon said today that negotiators were still in disagreement over how far-reaching the accord should be and who should pay for damages wrought by global warming. Ban said he was “convinced and confident” negotiators would reach an “ambitious, strong accord”.
Kerry, on his fifth straight day in France trying to iron out differences with developing countries, said he was “hopeful” of an accord and has been working behind the scenes to reach compromises.
The two weeks of talks are the culmination of years of UN-led efforts to create a long-term climate deal. UN climate conferences often run past their deadlines, given the complexity and sensitivity of each word in an international agreement and the consequences for national economies.
Analysts said the delay until tomorrow was not necessarily a bad sign.
“This needs consensus,” said Michael Jacobs, an economist with the New Climate Economy project, speaking to reporters outside Paris. “There’s a lot of negotiating to do.”
Sam Barratt of advocacy group Avaaz, added: “We would rather they take their time and were patient with the right deal than rush it and get a breakdown . . . . Getting 200 countries to agree on anything is tough. Getting them to agree on the future of the planet and a deal on climate change is probably one of the toughest pieces of negotiation they’ll ever get involved in.”
This accord is the first time all countries are expected to pitch in — the previous emissions treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, only included rich countries.
The latest 27-page draft said governments would aim to peak the emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases “as soon as possible” and strive to reach “emissions neutrality” by the second half of the century. That was weaker language than in previous drafts, which included more specific emissions cuts and time frames.
China’s Liu said negotiators don’t understand what is meant by “neutrality” and argued for an even softer “low-carbon” goal.
The biggest challenge is to define the responsibilities of wealthy nations, which have polluted the most historically, and those of developing economies including China and India, where emissions are growing the fastest.
The draft didn’t resolve how to deal with demands from vulnerable countries to deal with unavoidable damage from rising seas and other climate impacts. One option said such “loss and damage” would be addressed in a way that doesn’t involve liability and compensation — a United States demand.