"Marriage or Runaway Bride: Will the American-European Relationship Strengthen or Deteroriate at Durban Climate Talks?"
DURBAN — It looked like the U.S. and Europe were in for a rough ride coming into the Durban climate talks. The EU wanted a commitment to seek a binding climate treaty by 2020 and the U.S was pushing back.
The impasse over a binding treaty continues. But there has been some movement on key issues this week that may help pave the way toward broader international greenhouse gas targets.
In an extensive interview with Climate Progress, Europe’s chief negotiator, Artur Runge-Metzger, laid out his hopes for movement in the final days of climate talks in Durban. As it turns out, the U.S. and EU aren’t so far apart on some key issues.
While the Europeans have been dismayed by the unwillingness of the Americans to commit to negotiations over binding agreements beyond 2020, Metzger seemed to broadly agree with the U.S. demand that developing countries eventually agree to binding targets — or a final agreement is not worth doing.
“What we really want to see is countries engage in the negotiations process with the view of a legal outcome at the end of that,” he said.
Metzger compared the process to a wedding engagement, saying “you go through it with marriage in the cards. But that will only be decided the day you do the vows. We are asking for engagement.”
So far, the U.S. says developing countries haven’t found the prospect of marriage particularly attractive.
“There are significant wrinkles that come into play,” said Todd Stern, America’s chief negotiator, in a briefing this afternoon. “We’ve made clear that in order to see any legally binding treaty, we’d need to fully bind developing countries.”
Earlier this week, the meeting erupted with a flurry of speculation about China’s apparent willingness to embrace negotiations over a binding treaty. But Stern and Metzger both told Climate Progress this week that China has not changed its stance. In bilateral negotiations last night, Metzger said he hadn’t heard anything new from Chinese negotiators.
“They talk around legally binding commitments without giving clarity to it,” said Metzger. “This is not a breakthrough. In the negotiations, I don’t see anything different happening.”
Stern backed up Metzger’s statement in this afternoon’s briefing: “There hasn’t been a change,” he said.
Both would like to see a change. However, it’s unclear how aggressively each will pursue the courtship.
Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it’s possible that the Europeans will attempt to strike a more casual relationship with the Chinese in order to “pull the U.S. in” with the hopes that it becomes more serious.
But the EU is “clearly frustrated” by the fickle response from the Americans leading up the Durban talks, said Schmidt.
“They’re saying: ‘first you told us to go into the Kyoto Protocol. We did it, and you backed away. Then you told us to wait eight years to go through the Bush Administration and everything would be better. Now your climate bill didn’t pass you’re telling us wait some more.’”
Adding to overall European frustration, negotiators are simultaneously trying to hold together the crumbling Kyoto Protocol while member countries deal with a financial crisis that could impact regional clean energy development.
Although, there are signs that the U.S. is warming to European advances.
Prior to Durban the U.S. had blocked the final implementing agreement for the Green Climate Fund, an international pool of public and private dollars that would help deploy up to $100 billion a year for adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries. The Fund was one of the key agenda items emerging from last year’s successful Cancun meeting. But earlier today, American officials signaled that they are highly likely to support a framework agreement on the Green Fund
The U.S. came into the Durban talks with concerns about how member countries would manage the fund, asking for more operational independence. While the Americans still have issues with the text, Stern said he is “pretty optimistic” that the fund will be agreed upon. “There is no reason to think this is hung up,” he said.
In a conference judged by incremental progress, that’s a pretty big step.
The Americans have also been very supportive of a technology-transfer program, an idea developed with the Indians and supported by the Europeans.
Metzger said that an inability to agree on these instruments would be a “disaster” both for the climate and for diplomatic relationships.
If the final days of negotiations bring solid progress, however, the relationship may be strengthened. And that could potentially pave the way for a truly productive marriage on climate change.