Emissions wrangle 'should not overshadow progress'
· US resistance criticised by Germany and China
A stand-off between the United States and Europe over carbon reduction targets should not overshadow the "significant" progress made on a new climate deal, Hilary Benn said yesterday. The environment secretary said the so-called Bali roadmap, which negotiators hope to produce tomorrow as the first step towards a new treaty, did not need a fixed target to be considered a success. He said: "Of course there are people who hoped it would all be sorted out this week. But the roadmap will give us the means to get where we want to go, and we haven't had that previously, and that's a significant step."
The US is trying to remove a reference to 25-40% cuts in carbon pollution by 2020 for developed countries, which remained in the draft roadmap released by the UN yesterday. Harlan Watson, US chief negotiator, said: "The reality in this business is that once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction."
The target is supported by Britain and Europe, which say it is necessary to avoid a 2C rise in global temperatures, and by developing countries such as Brazil and China, which want the US to show it is now serious about global warming.
Germany's environment minister Sigmar Gabriel said the Bali conference would be meaningless if it did not set clear targets. He said: "I do not need a paper from Bali in which we only say, 'OK, we'll meet next year again'. How can we find a roadmap without having a target, without having a goal?" The roadmap aims to set the framework and timetable to agree a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the existing global treaty to regulate greenhouse gases, which expires in 2012.
The dispute came as heads of government and senior ministers took charge of the discussions for the first time, after a series of speeches that urged the world to quickly impose deep cuts in emissions, to head off scientific predictions of rising seas, worsening droughts and famines, and melting ice sheets. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, urged countries not to "betray our planet and our children". But he said it might be "too ambitious" to include fixed emission goals in tomorrow's roadmap.
Benn said the talks had agreed progress on how to avoid deforestation and how to help poor countries adapt to the consequences of global warming. He said a "clear majority" of countries had agreed to launch formal negotiations on a new treaty. Sources said Saudi Arabia, a regular obstructor at such talks, was still holding out. Talks on a way to transfer clean technology from rich to poor countries collapsed late on Tuesday night, but Benn insisted they could be revived.
China highlighted its efforts to control emissions despite rocketing economic growth and energy use. Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman of the National Development Commission, said $20bn (£9.7bn) had been invested this year in renewables. He said rich countries should "show political will" by committing to cut emissions.
A formal session to open the high-level section of the UN climate talks was interrupted by an invitation to enjoy one of the Indonesian president's songs. Heads of government squirmed in their seats as the song's video, complete with smiling children and burning forests, was beamed on to a screen and an aide urged them to sing along. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a minor pop star in Indonesia. Asked if he had enjoyed the performance, Hilary Benn said: "I've enjoyed all of it so far but I don't plan to sing."