Small nations urge tougher climate deal

Wealthy countries came under attack at the UN climate talks in Spain on Friday for not pursuing a legally binding global treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and instead pushing for a weaker political agreement.
Maldivian officials held an underwater cabinet meeting in October to draw attention to rising sea levels related to climate change. ((Mohammed Seeneen/Associated Press))

Wealthy countries came under attack at the UN climate talks in Spain on Friday for not pursuing a legally binding global treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and instead pushing for a weaker political agreement.

"Non-performance, non-deliverance and non-commitment by the developed countries is acting as a brake for any meaningful progress," Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping said.

The industrial countries, unable to agree on firm carbon-cutting targets, are attempting to draw up a political deal that would obligate wealthy nations to set solid reduction promises. The deal would also call for financial commitments to help developing countries cope with floods, droughts and other climate-related disasters.

This new deal would stand until a more formal, legally binding treaty is worked out, a task that could take another year.

Di-Aping accused wealthy nations of backing out of environmental commitments and "asking the poorest of the world and the most vulnerable and the most underdeveloped to subsidize their high standard of living."

A bloc of 43 island nations — including Cuba, Haiti and the Maldives, which are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather related to climate change — were also unsatisfied with this interim plan.

"There are no practical obstacles whatsoever. All that's lacking now is the political will to finish the job," said Dessima Williams, Grenadian diplomat and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States.

Emission cuts demanded

The islands, along with the world's least developed countries, are demanding steep emission cuts by the industrial countries that would limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. The wealthy nations have been angling for targets that limit global warming to two degrees above those levels.

Developing countries at the week-long meeting in Barcelona hoped a legally enforceable treaty would be ready before the UN climate conference in Copenhagen next month, the deadline for world leaders to agree on a new pact.

But countries like the United States has been hesistant to set a firm emissions target and are not prepared to sign a legal pact next month

Earlier this week, dismay over the industrial nations' emissions targets led African countries to boycott meetings in protest. 

The UN says the political agreement, though not legally binding, would still carry the authority of the world leaders signing off on it.

"Governments can deliver a strong deal in Copenhagen, and nothing has changed my confidence in that," said Yvo de Boer, the UN official overseeing the talks.

Supporters hope the industrial nations will make enough firm pledges to get all 192 UN member states on board with the agreement in December.

The delay in agreeing on a legally binding document could be significant as the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions is set to expire in 2012.

With files from The Associated Press