Climate Diplomats Get Catty; Copenhagen Breakthrough in Doubt

by William Yeatman on October 20, 2009

The usually courteous practice of international diplomacy degenerated into name-calling last week over which nations are responsible for the slow pace of negotiations for a successor climate treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which environmentalists hope will be finalized this December in Copenhagen.

It all started when Yu Qingtai, a Chinese official, told reporters during a Bangkok climate conference that, “I have yet to see a developed country or a group of developed countries coming up to say to the public, the international community and to their own people that they are not here to kill the Kyoto Protocol.”

He was referring to the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol, which absolves developing countries from any responsibility to fight climate change until they attain a higher standard of living. Developed countries want to jettison this principle because rapidly developing countries (such as China, India, and Brazil) will account for almost all future increases in global greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Qingtai’s comments elicited a response from the European Union’s lead negotiator, Mr. Runger-Metzger, who told reporters that, “You may have heard that China accused the EU of killing off the Kyoto Protocol. But it is the U.S. that is trying to kill it. They want everything ‘common’ and nothing ‘differentiated.'”

Mr. Runger-Metzger’s assertion is patently false-European nations have repeatedly indicated that treaty to fight global warming must include rapidly developing countries. That’s why an anonymous diplomat told BusinessWeek that “The EU is briefing against the U.S., but they aren’t doing anything where it matters-attacking the U.S. position in the talks themselves.”

The December deadline for a climate treaty has long been in doubt. This week’s undiplomatic cattiness suggests that a breakthrough is all but unthinkable.

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