Divergent views signal tense time ahead for Durban climate talks


By Arthur Max, AP

DURBAN, South Africa–With heat-trapping carbon at record levels in the atmosphere, U.N. climate negotiations opened Monday with pressure building to salvage the only treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S., Europe and the developing countries laid out diverging positions at the outset, signaling tough talks ahead even as South African President Jacob Zuma called for national interests to be laid aside “for a common good and benefit of all humanity.” As if to illustrate the effects of global warming, a fierce storm on the eve of the talks flooded shack settlements and killed at least five people in the port city hosting the international gathering.

Scientists say such unusual weather has become more frequent and will continue to happen more often as the Earth warms, although it is impossible to attribute any individual event to climate change. The talks face a looming one-year deadline with the expiry next December of the commitment by 37 industrial countries to cut carbon emissions, as required under the Kyoto Protocol. At issue is whether those countries would accept another period of greater emission reductions. As the talks opened, Canadian television reported that Ottawa will announce its formal withdraw from the Kyoto accord next month. Canada, joined by Japan and Russia, said last year it will not accept new commitments, but renouncing the accord would be another setback to the treaty concluded with much fanfare in 1997. Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said he would neither confirm or deny the report.