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 October 04, 2009
Copenhagen talks on the brink as US refuses to budge on Kyoto

 China and US clash over US plan for new legal framework that would allow countries to set their own emissions targets. The chance of a meaningful international climate change deal in Copenhagen later this year is today hanging by a thread after the US and China clashed publicly over US proposals that would mean the replacement of the Kyoto Protocol with a new deal.

According to reports, US negotiators at the UN-backed talks in Bangkok said they would not sign up to the Kyoto Protocol or any Copenhagen deal that maintains the legally binding emission targets set out in the original Kyoto agreement.

Instead, the US team outlined plans for an entirely new agreement that would require all countries to set their own emission targets and action plans.

Chief US negotiator Jonathan Pershing said the US had made significant progress in tackling climate change and still wanted to see a global deal reached. But he insisted it would not sign up to a deal that would result in international sanctions, if it failed to meet targets that would not necessarily apply to large developing countries such as China.

"We are not going to be in the Kyoto Protocol," he said. "We are not going to be part of an agreement that we cannot meet. We say a new agreement has to [be signed] by all countries. Things have changed since Kyoto. Where countries were in 1990 and today is very different. We cannot be stuck with an agreement 20 years old. We want action from all countries."

The comments brought a robust response from China and the G77 group of developing countries, which categorically rejected any attempt to scrap the Kyoto framework and the concept of legally binding emission targets.

In a sign that the negotiations could yet be completely derailed, Yu Qingtai, China's lead representative said the Kyoto protocol was "not negotiable". He added that poorer nations wanted the treaty strengthened rather than completely replaced.

He also suggested it was unclear how an agreement based on individual countries setting their own targets would work when no rich nation had yet signed up to the goal of cutting emissions 40 per cent by 2020, which scientists believe is required to tackle dangerous levels of climate change.

Significantly, the EU sided with the US offering qualified support for a rewriting of the Kyoto framework.

EU spokesman Karl Falkenberg told The Guardian newspaper that there was evidence that Kyoto was not working in its current form. "We look at the Kyoto Protocol, but since it came into force we have seen emissions increase," he said.

"It has not decreased emissions. It's not enough and we need more. We are very unlikely to see the US join Kyoto, but we are working with the US to find a legal framework to allow the US to participate and which will allow large emitters [such as China] to participate."

Negotiators are now reportedly working frantically to broker a compromise with poorer nations. Some are said to be so furious at the US stance that they are considering walking out of the talks.

One proposal being considered is for the Kyoto framework to be retained and new targets agreed, while the US signs a separate treaty committing it to similar emission cuts.