The United Nations climate change talks in Lima, which opened on Dec. 1 with hopes for new momentum, officially ended on Friday without much progress on the question that has stymied negotiators for years: who should bear the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
"We are almost there," Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told delegates. "I am sure we will find solutions." The talks had been due to end on Friday afternoon but were extended to last overnight.
China and the United States announced a bilateral climate change pact last month, raising expectations for the Lima talks, which focused on the scope of pledges that all 190 members states of the U.N. are due to make in 2015 to tackle global warming. Those national pledges, due by an informal deadline of March 31, 2015, will be the basis of a deal to be agreed on in Paris in December 2015 and are meant as a step toward reversing rising world greenhouse gas emissions.
Lack of progress in Lima throws new doubt on what can be accomplished in Paris. In a brief visit to Lima, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged governments to stop bickering over who should do what to rein in the carbon pollution blamed for heating the planet. "Pretty simple, folks: It's everyone's responsibility, because it's the net amount of carbon that matters, not each country's share," Kerry said Thursday.
Rich countries like the U.S. acquired wealth through fossil-fuel dependent industrialization, contributing the lion’s share of historial greenhouse gas emissions Emerging economies, meanwhile, are also relying on cheap fossil fuels to grow and are contributing an increasing proportion of current emissions. Some developing countries have urged wealthier counterparts to reduce their emissions first, and to contribute to a global fund aimed at helping poorer nations adapt to the unpredictable weather and rising oceans brought on by climate change.
Latin American countries came under criticism in Lima for their ambitious plans to increase production and use of fossil fuels. Brazil and Mexico defended their stance during the Lima talks. They say they are also making large investments in renewable energy and reducing deforestation, which can counter the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Trees breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, so they are important bargaining chips for countries seeking to emit more greenhouse gases.
Guy Edwards, a climate expert at Brown University who studies Latin American policies, says countries in the region have been successful in projecting a climate-friendly stance that does not entirely reflect the reality. "If you take the domestic policies of many of these countries, the rhetoric is still much ahead of the action," he said.
Options discussed in Lima range from obliging nations to publish a vague outline of their carbon plans on a U.N. website, to making all nations provide detailed projections in tons of greenhouse gas emissions that will be reviewed by experts.
"There's the good, the bad and the ugly," said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said "ugly" would mean only vague action and "good" would be detailed accounts. Delegates say the talks may well run overnight into Saturday.
China has promised that its emissions will peak around 2030, but it may not give the exact numbers and opposes the idea of a review by other countries. Marlene Moses of Nauru, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, which fears rising sea levels, criticized China's reluctance to give full information.
Moses argued that China is, in effect, telling other countries, "'We'll show you our cards but don't read them'. ... We are being asked to sign on to an agreement that puts us underwater. That's not fair to us."
The United States favors a review but is not insisting that countries should be willing to toughen their plans if challenged. The European Union and many developing nations want detailed accounting by all and a strong review.
"We have agreed to find the balance between the several options," German Environment Minister Barbara Hendriks said.
This year is set to be the warmest on record, and scenarios by a U.N. panel of scientists indicate that the world should get on track to slash emissions to a net zero before 2100.
Al Jazeera and wire services