A global deal on a pact to succeed the U.N.'s main climate agreement is still within reach but will not be struck this year, with the pace of talks still far too slow, New Zealand's top climate negotiator said on Wednesday.
Inevitably, there would be a gap after the Kyoto Protocol's first period expires in 2012, Minister of Climate Change Negotiations Tim Groser said in an interview after delegates from 35 nations attended two days of climate talks in Auckland.
Disputes between rich and poor on sharing curbs in greenhouse gases mean gridlock over the Kyoto Protocol, the existing U.N. plan which obliges about 40 industrialised nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012.
Years of U.N.-led talks have tried to agree on a deal that either extends Kyoto from 2013 or a new deal that binds all major greenhouse gas polluting nations, including China, India and the United States, to emissions curbs.
"It's like water dripping away at a stone," Groser said, referring to the glacial pace of U.N.-led negotiations. "There is rarely ever a crucial meeting. It's a case of building slowly on an international basis".
About 70 delegates attended the informal meeting in Auckland that ended on Tuesday. All the major developed and emerging countries were represented except for China. Groser said it was not known why China didn't attend.
The discussions centred around the technical issues of how to measure, report and verify emissions on a country-by-country basis, a crucial focus of U.N. climate talks. Nations, particularly the United States, want a transparent system to show that countries are meeting emissions reduction pledges.
GULF BETWEEN RICH AND POOR
During two weeks of U.N. talks in Germany last month, negotiators made some progress but a gulf still remained between developed and developing countries about who should shoulder the burden of reducing emissions blamed for stoking global warming.
Poor countries want rich nations to take the lead in fighting climate change since they have burnt carbon-emitting fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. But rapid economic growth has quickly driven up fossil fuel emissions from developing nations. China is now the world's top greenhouse gas polluter.
"I can see all kinds of reasons why wouldn't happen but I can see a scenario where it would," Groser said.
He believed it was not the right approach to target major meetings with the goal of striking a deal at that time, citing the major disappointment in the wake of the Copenhagen meeting of 2009. The next major talks will be held in Durban in South Africa at the end of the year.
"I don't think there's a single negotiator who's going to make the same mistake as Copenhagen, of thinking we'll have a full and ratifiable agreement," Groser said.
The public backlash that occurred after Copenhagen took impetus out of negotiations, but has helped realign expectations about setting deadlines for agreements. Copenhagen failed to yield a new climate pact and parties merely noted the non-binding deal agreed at those talks.
"In the past six months there's been a very important but slow realisation about the way forward on climate change," Groser said.
"We all know there is no possibility of avoiding a gap at the end of the first commitment period at the end of 2012."
However, Groser said this was not a major setback in the fight to tackle climate change, as international agreements only provided a platform for each country to shape their own domestic policy.
He said carbon trading schemes, such as those in the European Union and New Zealand, would carry on even if there was no agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.