Hot air: Summit heads to a close with no sign of progress

The UN climate conference began 11 days ago. Representatives from 189 countries jetted in to Montreal. Tomorrow the talking stops, with little sign of action. Since the summit began, the seas have risen by 0.077mm, 1,176 million barrels of oil have been pumped, 280,000 hectares of forest have been destroyed, and 907 million tonnes of greenhouse gases have been discharged. So what have 11 days of talks achieved so far?

A A A

They came promising to talk and hoping to agree to more talks. And they have talked and talked. And by tonight, if all goes well, they will have secured an agreement requiring them to come back and talk some more.

At the United Nations climate change talks in Montreal it seems the urgent task of tackling global warming is a long and slow process. But officials claim, perhaps as you might expect, that important progress is being made.

The Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, who is representing the presidency of the EU, said yesterday that most of the obstacles stopping the Kyoto protocol along have been overcome. She said she had experienced "false euphoria" before, but said the mood at the talks was positive.

That is partly because expectations on entering these negotiations were so low. Officials said they were not expecting to come away with any new targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases once the first stage of the Kyoto process ends in seven years, but simply a commitment to continue negotiations about that process post 2012.

Representatives from around the world are at the talks for two separate meetings. The largest is the annual gathering of the 190-odd countries who agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil there was a need to tackle climate change. In the bureaucratic shorthand, this meeting is known as the Cop (Conference of Parties).

The second meeting is for 155 nations which recognised that, while important, such an agreed statement was not enough by itself. In 1997, they agreed to the Kyoto protocol demanding cuts in the emission of greenhouse gases. (This is the Mop - the Meeting of the Parties). Of these 155 countries, 36 industrialised nations, including the UK, have agreed to an overall reduction to 5 per cent beneath 1990 levels.

Much of the attention this week has focused on the US, a member of the Cop rather than the Mop, since President George Bush rejected Kyoto in 2001. The Cop is expected to approve a bland agreement to further talks. (Given US opposition to any greater level of commitment, most campaigners place the US in the category of bad cop/Cop).

The US has refused to adopt legally binding targets to cut the emission of greenhouse gases, and has insisted it will not agree to any binding commitments for the post-2012 periods. It has said it will not agree to "negotiations" on such an issue and refuses to agree that it involved in such a "process".

Sometimes, the semantic pedantry it uses to get through these two weeks of talks while avoiding any meaningful commitment becomes farcical.

At a briefing on Wednesday, the senior US official, Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, declared: "We firmly believe negotiations will not reap progress ... We have concerns about formalised discussions that provide a basis for negotiations. We believe progress cannot be made that way."

She said this while maintaining with a straight face that the US - which accounts for 25 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions - was acting as a beacon to the rest of the planet when it came to tackling climate change. "We lead the world in climate change science - $2bn (£1.14bn) this year," she said.

Such an unwillingness to participate has led to criticism from other countries. The Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, said: "To the reluctant countries, including the US, I said this: there is a such a thing as a global conscience and this is the time to listen to it. There is absolutely no excuse for any more delay for action."

The Bush administration claims new technology - rather than legally binding targets - is the way to tackle climate change. To this end it, will be participating early next year in the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate. This group includes Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea.

The US has indicated it will send its Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to the talks, in contrast to the undersecretary of state sent to this meeting.

Mrs Beckett said reporters should draw their own judgement as to what signal this sent regarding which meeting the US considered to be the most important.

For the Americans, the talks in Australia scheduled for January offer an easier way forward. Aside from the discussions about new technology, it requires no commitment from participants. Except, perhaps, for more talks.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Executive is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders