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Deal in Doubt as Durban Talks Wind Down

  • Gabe Joselow

Protesters march toward the U.S. embassy on World Climate Day, Dec. 3, 2011.

Protesters march toward the U.S. embassy on World Climate Day, Dec. 3, 2011.

Time is running out for a major deal to tackle climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in South Africa, and observers say the world's biggest emitters are continuing to hold up progress on a new agreement to cut emissions.

Delegates at COP17 are continuing to work on details of a European Union proposal toward a new global commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The so-called EU "roadmap" would set a deadline for a new deal to be agreed to by 2015 and to be implemented by 2020.

With few hours left to negotiate, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said compromises must be reached.

"If there is no further movement from what I have seen until four o'clock this morning, then I must say I don't think there will be a deal in Durban," said Hedegaard.

But, she added, all hope is not lost.

"Now it's not the first time in a COP that [by] Thursday night you’d not have the deal," she said. "So that is why I emphasize there still is time to move and I must say there have been a lot of constructive talks."

The European Union issued a joint statement with a grouping of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Association of Small Island States, supporting the European roadmap and calling for more ambitious action from other countries.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said development and similar statements from other countries are encouraging, but that more ambition is needed.

"Everything seems possible today, but it's not done. We have a lot more work to get done," he said. "But it's on the table [and] we've seen movement. The developments I talked about with the small island state coalition and the LDCs and the movements from South Africa and Brazil are encouraging, but without the U.S., China and India, they're not enough.”

The EU has indicated that the world's three biggest polluters, China, India and the United States, have been slowing down the pace of negotiations on a roadmap to a future agreement.

Hedegaard said the major sticking points are what legal form the final agreement would take and whether there will be a two-track arrangement so that some countries are legally bound while others commit to voluntary emissions cuts.

Other negotiations are continuing on a proposal to provide $100 billion in long-term financing to developing nations for environmental projects. So far delegates have only begun sorting out the terms of the deal, with no reported progress on how to actually finance it.