US and China Continue to Play Climate "Ping-Pong"

At the 2011 UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, the primary goal of reaching a global agreement on emissions before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 appears to be reaching a deadlock. An article from Business Day points to the usual suspects who are once again creating a stalemate:

THE “ping-pong” game between the US and China over what they were prepared to concede in the United Nations climate change talks (COP-17) in Durban must come to an end, European climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard said on Wednesday.

[...]Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament environment committee, said it was “frustrating” to see the COP-17 negotiations “hijacked for the third year by the ping-pong game between the US and China”.

This impasse was made apparent after a proposal was made by an EU delegate at the conference. Canada.com reports:

European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard urged the other countries gathered at the United Nations climate-change summit to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive on a path toward a larger and more comprehensive binding agreement to slash heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

[...]She urged others countries in the United Nations to come forward and commit to a binding agreement, along with the date when they would be ready to sign it.

The EU has proposed signing the deal by 2015, guided by the next international review of peer-reviewed science on climate change, followed by implementation in 2020.

The New York Times describes how China and the US responded to Hedegaard’s proposal:

Mr. Xie [Zhenhua, China's lead negotiator at the conference] outlined five conditions under which China would consider joining such a treaty as a full partner, the major one being that China and other rapidly growing economies must be treated differently from the so-called rich countries. But that has been a deal-breaker for the United States for years and is the central reason that the Senate refused to even consider ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 agreement whose goal, still unmet, is to limit global greenhouse gas emissions.

“These conditions are not new,” Mr. Xie acknowledged at a briefing here where more than 190 nations are gathered for the 17th annual conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “These have been negotiated for the past 20 years.

[...]Todd D. Stern, the American climate change envoy, said that the United States would be happy to discuss a formal treaty and then spelled out his conditions, which also were not new and appeared to rule out any sort of deal like that envisioned by Mr. Xie.

For a legally binding agreement to take hold, “it’s going to be absolutely critical that it applies to all the major players, and China obviously is one of them,” Mr. Stern said at a briefing.

The article goes on to explain how noncommittal tones from the US and China are becoming characteristic of these UN climate talks:

The dispute between the United States and China, the two largest sources of the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, has come to be an enduring feature of these negotiations and a source of deep frustration for the other players.

[...]The standoff has threatened to derail the process in each of the past several years, but at the end of the two-week session the parties usually pull back from the brink and announce an incremental, face-saving deal. This year’s talks appear headed for the same sort of conclusion.

For related coverage, check out CDT’s Environmental Crisis News Focus.