Bonn - Hopes are fading that climate talks in Qatar late this year will make even modest progress towards getting a new globally binding climate deal signed by 2015, as preliminary negotiations in Germany this week have left much work to be done.
The fear is that if work plans and agendas are not set by the end of this year at the latest it could have a knock-on effect, holding up the entire effort to avert potentially devastating global warming.
United Nations climate talks in South Africa last year agreed a package of measures that would extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a global pact enforcing carbon cuts, and decide a new, legally binding accord by 2015, coming into force by 2020.
In the first negotiating session since that agreement, delegates from over 180 countries were nearing the end of two-week long session in Bonn, but progress has been hampered by procedural wrangling.
Additional sessions later on look unlikely, due to a lack of funding, so a range of unresolved issues will be left until the two-week summit in Doha, Qatar, at the end of November.
Delegates and observers fear there will be too much work to do to make proper progress on the new global deal and ensure deeper emissions cuts are made both up to 2020 and beyond.
“(We know that) trade talks collapsed in Doha. Are we setting the stage for the collapse of climate negotiations?” said Mithika Mwenda, co-ordinator for campaign group the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance.
“This is like the Titanic, where both developing countries and industrialised countries will sink.”
An agenda for work on a new global deal was supposed to have been set in the first half of this year but stalemate over the chair and procedure has thwarted progress, with some nations accusing others of backtracking on what was agreed in South Africa's Durban.
Other issues that need more work include identifying sources of long-term finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change, establishing the length of a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol and countries' emissions cut ambitions under that, as well as longer-term targets under a new global deal.
“Doha is not going to be an easy ride. The mood in the room over the last few days is one of rising anger from many parties that we are not moving forward,” said Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union's lead climate negotiator.
Scientists have warned time is running out to limit global warming and some government policies do not seem to be curbing emissions fast enough as global carbon emissions hit a record high last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises industrialised countries.
“I think it would be unrealistic to think that there will be major breakthroughs very soon,” the IEA's chief economist Fatih Birol said on Thursday, referring to the climate talks.
“Climate change is sliding down in the international policy agenda, which is definitely a worrying trend.”
Looking ahead to Doha, most countries expect the length of Kyoto's second phase to be resolved because the current phase expires on Dec. 31.
Questions about which countries will sign up to a second commitment period will probably not get answered until the final stages of the Doha meeting and the depth of crucial emissions cut targets under that period will not be decided until later.
The EU and some smaller nations covering around 15 percent of global emissions have pledged to continue to be bound by Kyoto after it expires but Japan, Russia and Canada have refused and the United States has never had a Kyoto target.
Australia and New Zealand have put off a decision until later this year.
Developing countries that have not yet made emissions cut pledges to 2020 will be under increasing pressure to do so, and rich nations are being asked to ramp up their pledges.
Identifying sources of finance to help fill a fund to help poorer nations adapt to climate impacts also needs to be done urgently but the United States is reluctant to discuss finance issues, said Tim Gore of campaign group Oxfam.
“There is a risk that the only place finance is being discussed is in the work programme and and there is nowhere for it to land in the (main) negotiations,” he added.
Others see this is a year for developing a “mutual understanding” of the issues and sticking points.
“There is a general convergence that this (year) can be used as a conceptual year (on how to move forward),” an Australian negotiator told delegates this week.
Expectations for international climate talks in general have faded since a summit in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to deliver a globally binding deal.
Although the Durban summit produced that, critics said action on climate was being put off until after 2020 and that several elements were ambiguous, creating the opportunity to backtrack on what was agreed.
In an effort to secure a good outcome in Doha, some nations are pushing for more time to negotiate as a session proposed for Bangkok during the autumn depends on countries pledging more cash to fund it.
“I cannot see how we can complete the work...without an additional negotiating session this year,” said Sai Navoti, lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, representing some of the most vulnerable nations to climate change.
Support for this view is not universal and some observers fear additional sessions might only repeat old issues and arguments, while failing to take the process forward.
But Meena Raman, of non-profit organisation Third World Network, said the complexities of the Durban outcome and sheer volume of work to be done means the Bangkok session is crucial.
“To only allow one session here puts very high pressure in terms of not having an outcome that is fair,” she said. - Reuters