Climate Deal Emerging Shows More Friction Between U.S. and China

(Bloomberg) -- Envoys at a United Nations conference are preparing to endorse a set of steps on fighting climate change that falls short of the detailed action plan many countries and businesses were hoping for.

The delegates from almost 200 countries are drawing up rules for implementing the three-year-old Paris Agreement, which called for drastic cuts in fossil fuel pollution by the middle of the century. Draft texts of the deal emerging in Katowice, Poland, suggest many of the most thorny issues will be left for future meetings to determine.

Two weeks of talks in the Polish city best known for heavy industry and coal mining served to underscore the divisions between advanced nations including the U.S. and developing ones led by China on how to rein in greenhouse gases. The delegates on Friday were struggling to reach common ground on issues from finance to measuring emissions cuts.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Alden Meyer, who has been following UN climate politics for more than two decades at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S. advocacy group. “A lot of people observe that this is a collective action problem -- everyone is responsible yet no one is accountable.”

Climate Deal Emerging Shows More Friction Between U.S. and China

One of the deepest divisions was over whether the envoys should “take note of” or “welcome” a report from the world’s top climate scientists showing the measures needed to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The U.S. joined with oil exporters including Saudi Arabia in resisting language that appeared to endorse the findings of the report.

Rising greenhouse gas emissions already have driven up the global temperature about 1 degree Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution, with scientists suggesting that current plans leave the planet on track to warm 3 degrees or more by the end of the century. That would mark the quickest shift in the climate since the last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago, and envoys at the talks expressed alarm that so little is being done.

Polish officials who are hosting the talks circulated a draft text outlining what the delegates may agree when the meeting concludes. Envoys worked through the night and were expecting to run past their scheduled finish time on Friday. The text calls for:

  • Developed countries to meet their longstanding promise to boost climate-related aid to $100 billion a year by 2020, “noting with concern the urgent and emerging needs” arising from more violent storms in recent years.
  • Nations to submit final reports by 2024 assessing the progress they’re making on cutting emissions.
  • A system for measuring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas emissions in all nations.
  • A “global stock-take” of overall progress on meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
  • Details on how a Sustainable Development Mechanism might help expand the world’s network of cap-and-trade markets covering carbon emissions.

While the U.S. under then-President Barack Obama worked closely with China on the Paris Agreement, the two nations have diverged since then. President Donald Trump has pledged to scrap the accord and worked to boost use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. China stood with developing countries this week in demanding industrial nations make more progress meeting their pledge to boost climate-related aid to $100 billion a year by 2020.

“Some delegations we are seeing backsliding,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead envoy to the talks in Katowice, said at a briefing on Thursday afternoon. “There are still quite a number of developed countries who did not start” providing financial and technological support that they had pledged since 2009.

The Paris deal calls for countries to make voluntary cuts to their emissions. Katowice was to deliver a rulebook on accounting for those cuts -- and for the funds set to flow from rich nations to poorer ones to help them cope with the impacts of climate change.

Climate Deal Emerging Shows More Friction Between U.S. and China

Envoys have been working on that rulebook for months and have gotten bogged down in the detail. Richer nations wanted a more robust system of accounting, while poorer ones wanted any deal to recognize the wildly different capacity countries have in the measuring and reporting process.

Environmentalists and an increasing number of businesses were calling for as much detail as possible, giving them the guidance they need to make reductions in their own pollution and investment decisions.

“The text in its current form would not send a strong message to drastically increase emission cuts by 2020,” said Wendel Trio, director of the Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.

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