Europe Sees US on Board at Cancun

Europe is confident of US support at this month’s Cancun climate talks despite President Barack Obama’s poll reverse and believes other top global polluter, China, is acting on climate change, the EU’s climate chief Connie Hedegaard told AFP.

Talking up hopes of a positive outcome at the November 29-December 10 Cancun Conference in Mexico, Hedegaard warned that failure on the heels of the acrimonious Copenhagen talks could scuttle global efforts to combat climate change.

“There is this sort of hunger to get things done,” Hedegaard said in an interview. “But if Cancun does not deliver, the whole process is in danger.”

Asked whether Obama’s midterm setback was a blow to saving the planet, Hedegaard said “definitely the impression I get is that they will deliver and they know Cancun is crucial.”

The European Union’s commissioner for climate change, who has argued in favour of small steps and piecemeal pragmatism since the breakdown of the dream Copenhagen represented for many, confirmed a consensus package was on the table for Cancun.

Consisting of smaller goals — deals on deforestation, setting up climate warning systems, progress on financing, and encouraging the transfer of cleaner technology to poorer countries — “there is more or less a common idea of the elements of a Cancun package.”

“This is sort of the recipe for now,” she said, to move ahead on as many small fronts as possible while waiting for major global polluters, China and the United States, to sign on to a legally binding treaty on climate change — an issue due to come up again in 2011 at talks in South Africa.

Whether the outlines of a treaty could shape up there “is too early to tell. If Cancun delivers nothing, then it’s one scenario. If there is the will to compromise in Cancun that everybody says they have, then it’s another scenario.”

But in Cancun the 27-nation EU bloc also wanted to see movement on “more difficult issues where we have really different views” — such as writing into stone and verifying emissions targets, and reforming carbon markets.

She also warned against back-tracking on the Copenhagen accord, now signed by around 140 nations. “I would be very very nervous” if participants questioned basics such as limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius.

Despite Beijing and Washington’s refusal to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol that runs until 2012, though they jointly account for two-thirds of global emissions, Hedegaard was upbeat on efforts to fight global warming.

“We are in a better place than we were a few years back,” she said, listing moves on carbon trade in Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and hailing China’s move to write emissions targets for the first time into a five-year plan.

“It’s difficult to interpret exactly what the Chinese are doing in international negotiations,” she said. “But on the ground we see the Chinese doing lots of things … we have very good cooperation with them.”

In the long run it was vital for the US to legislate its climate bill and to find ways of verifying Washington stuck to its pledges.

For its part the EU is not prepared to go beyond a planned 20-percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions, given it represents less than 14 percent of global emissions.

In 2008 the EU said it would unilaterally cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020, as compared to a benchmark year of 1990.

“We were alone when we did this and it’s still not good enough,” she said. “But it was not in vain. The world is another place. We are moving.”

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