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EU Claims Progress on Climate 'Roadmap' at Durban

Chimneys from the Engen oil company are seen on the outskirts of the city of Durban, South Africa, the site of the COP17 climate talks, November 30, 2011.

Chimneys from the Engen oil company are seen on the outskirts of the city of Durban, South Africa, the site of the COP17 climate talks, November 30, 2011.

As the first week of negotiations at the U.N. climate change conference in South Africa comes to a close, the European Union says support is growing for a new legally-binding agreement to cut emissions. But the United States and other countries remain strongly opposed to the idea.

EU negotiators are urging other parties at the COP17 climate talks in Durban to agree to a “roadmap” that would lead to a climate treaty that would legally bind governments to cut emissions blamed for climate change.

The Polish head of the EU delegation, Tomasz Chruszczow, said there is growing support for such a measure.

“Many parties see that the goal of keeping the global warming within the limits, within two degrees, requires urgent action," said Chruszczow." And extreme weather events on the ground and that warning contained in the recent spate of reports from international institutions and organizations made it very hard to escape this kind of conclusion.”

The EU proposal would follow the current legal framework established under the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire next year. The EU wants the parties at COP17 to agree to establish a new treaty by 2015 that would go into effect by 2020.

Recent reports support the EU's argument that further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, are necessary to keep global temperatures from increasing to dangerous levels.

The International Energy Agency has warned that the world has about five years left to significantly cut carbon emissions in order to prevent irreversible climate change.

The European Union is trying to convince developing countries to sign on to such an agreement.

EU negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger noted the EU's success with the current program, saying the EU's emissions have dropped below 1990 levels while overall, the continent's economy has continued to grow.

“Because a lot of fear that is in this process is about 'I can either fight climate change or I can grow my economy,' but we can show, and that's a big example here, that we can do both at the same time," he said.

The United States did not adopt the Kyoto Protocol, and U.S. climate negotiators have said they will not support a legal mandate to cut emissions without knowing the details of such an agreement.

Commenting on the EU's proposed roadmap, U.S. deputy climate change envoy Jonathan Pershing said it would have to bind all parties equally.

“We're not looking for a mechanism in which we would have an obligation to reduce emissions of a legal form and the major emerging economies would have a voluntary program," said Pershing. "That's kind of the Kyoto structure. We are not a party to Kyoto, in no small measure, because of that constraint.”

The United States has argued that the voluntary emissions reductions that governments agreed to at the last climate conference in Cancun, Mexico are unlikely to change over the coming years.

The U.S. has been trying to start discussions, instead, on what can be done after 2020.