TIANJIN, China – U.N. climate talks being held in China this week are making limited progress as rich and poor nations remain divided on key issues, negotiators said Wednesday.
"There is less agreement than one might have hoped to find at this stage, and it's going to require a lot of work to get to some significant outcome by the end of this week," said chief U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing.
Delegates from more than 150 nations are meeting in the northern city of Tianjin for a week of negotiations ahead of major climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, in December aimed at achieving a global plan for curbing "greenhouse" gases blamed for global warming. The negotiations end Saturday.
Last year's U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen disappointed many environmentalists and political leaders by failing to produce a legally binding treaty on curbing gases such as carbon dioxide.
Instead, nations agreed to a nonbinding political declaration on fighting climate change — the Copenhagen Accord — in which countries were to submit voluntary pledges to reduce carbon emissions.
Since a binding global deal is largely out of reach this year, negotiators have been focusing on smaller, less contentious initiatives that can lay the foundation for a legal framework that could be approved later, possibly in talks in South Africa in 2011.
But even with lower expectations, sharp disagreements remained over how to share the burden for emissions cuts, and how the cuts could be verified.
Developing countries have long said that richer nations need to do more because historically they have contributed the bulk of the world's greenhouse gases. Industrialized countries have offered financial and technological aid to developing nations to help them cut their emissions but want to be able to verify the reductions.
Much of the focus has been on the stances of China and the U.S., the world's two largest emitters, who account for more than 40 percent of the world's total production of greenhouse gases.
On Wednesday, top Chinese climate official Xie Zhenhua said developed nations have failed to take the lead in making substantial cuts in their own carbon emissions while unfairly demanding more from developing nations.
"The commitments made so far are far from what we expected," he said. "We hope they can make dramatic reductions."
Europe has pledged to cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020, based on 1990 levels, while the United States has pledged a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels — cuts that still fall short of the amount needed to keep the Earth's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees C (3.6 F) above preindustrial levels to head off the worst effects of global warming.
China pledged last year to cut its carbon intensity — emissions per unit of gross domestic product — by 40-45 percent by 2020. But Xie said it's unreasonable to expect rising economies to put an absolute cap on their emissions since it will limit their economic growth.
"For developed countries, they need to take the lead in making substantial reductions and they need to make room for the development of developing countries," he said.
Pershing said countries have appeared to backslide on their support for the principles outlined in the Copenhagen agreement.
"What's frustrating in these negotiations is to see countries not using that as the basis, but relitigating things that we resolved over the course of the Copenhagen negotiations," he said.
He said he is still hopeful that agreement can be reached in Tianjin and warned that failing to reach a consensus will jeopardize the Cancun conference.
"The consequences of not having an agreement coming out of Cancun are things that we have to worry about. It is something to be considered seriously, because the process is going to be very hard-pressed to continue to meet and to continue," he said.