Tempers fray over Russian block at climate talks

BONN (AFP) - A key panel at UN climate talks in Bonn went into deep freeze on Tuesday as Russia ignored pleas to end a procedural protest that observers said put narrow politics above global interests.

Supported by Belarus and Ukraine, Russia blocked work in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), a key technical committee, in the latest round of climate talks, which opened on June 3.

Observers said if the three countries did not back down, the future of the entire UN process to fight greenhouse-gas emissions would be at risk.

"It's a most unfortunate situation," said Ms Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which announced the suspension.

The SBI advises climate negotiators on such key issues as progress being made towards achieving the UN's goal of limiting global warming to a maximum two degrees Celsius.

Russia is incensed by the way the UNFCCC's last big annual meeting, held in Doha, Qatar, closed last December.

Moscow says its opposition was ignored by the conference's Qatari chairman, who gavelled through a deal that extended the Kyoto Protocol on curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The Doha decision hamstrung Moscow's planned sale of 5.8 billion tonnes of carbon credits amassed under the first round of the Kyoto Protocol.

Russia had gained the credits not through emissions reductions efforts, but after market pressure forced the closure of CO2-spewing factories following the fall of the Soviet Union.

In the face of pleas and criticism from other delegates, Russian chief negotiator Oleg Shamonov said his country would not back down on what it felt was a matter of principle.

"Emotions must be set aside," he said, arguing for more transparency in UN decision-making.

"Our intention is to bring the process from behind the looking glass." But Fiji, speaking for an alliance of developing countries that includes China, begged for action.

"Please don't walk off, please don't close the door and turn off the lights," its delegate said.

"We are all here as sovereign member states. Let us not tie the noose around our necks on some procedural issues." To applause, Tuvalu, a small-island state worried about sea-level rise, asked: "Do we have to bury ourselves in procedural matters and not address important issues?" The quarrel goes to the heart of decision-making procedure at the 20-year-old climate forum.

Bedevilled by national interests, nit-picking and bickering, the 195 parties to the UNFCCC struggle to agree on curbing carbon emissions and helping poor countries adapt to worse floods, storms, droughts and rising seas.

Since 2009, the big decisions at the annual ministerial get-together have been reached in the pre-dawn hours amid scenes of exhaustion - and only after use of the gavel has sidelined dissenters.

Supporters of the technique say decisions would be even weaker and more laborious if formal unanimity were required.

The Climate Action Network (CAN) observer group noted there were as few as five negotiating sessions left before countries must sign a new, global carbon-curbing climate pact by a 2015 deadline.

The deal is to enter into force in 2020.

"It's the politics not the process that's at fault here. They are using the process to politicise their point," CAN International director Wael Hmaidan said of the Russian-led stance.

"All efforts at compromise were rejected. This implies they were not interested in the substance of the discussion about transparency but instead using it for other purposes." The gridlock means the UNFCCC will head for its annual meeting in Warsaw from Nov 11-22 with scant preparation for several big problems.

They include a method of common accountancy to show how developing countries are meeting emissions goals and how to build a mechanism to support countries badly hit by climate change.

"If these three countries maintain their positions until 2015, they could wreck the entire process," one observer warned AFP.

Greenpeace said the deadlock "can be no excuse for wasting valuable time, particularly in a week that saw Germany and eastern Europe hit by devastating floods and climate change impacts continue to accelerate across the world."