Skip to main content

The Colossal Fossil mock award is presented to Jordan Konek, an Inuit from the town of Arviat in Nunavut, in Durban Dec. 9, 2011. Canada has received the Fossil of the Year award for five years running, which mark what activists call the country's poor performance in global climate progress.ROGAN WARD

With negotiations extended by an extra day and huge differences still remaining, Canada is blaming China for being "obstructionist" on a climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The global negotiations in Durban descended into a fierce war of words on Friday as countries battled over the text of a potential agreement on how to limit greenhouse gases. At one point on Friday, the talks seemed on the verge of collapse. Some delegates sharply criticized Canada, while Canada in turn blamed China for the obstacles in the negotiations.

Late on Friday night, a new text emerged in a fresh bid for compromise, but the new text was so vague that it lacked any specific targets for implementing a new treaty.

Political leaders and environment ministers from about 190 countries will convene in Durban on Saturday morning to try to hammer out a final agreement. The talks were scheduled to end on Friday, but the slow pace of the complex negotiations forced the leaders to extend the talks by an additional day.

Earlier on Friday, when the first draft was released by the South African hosts of the negotiations, there were near-unanimous attacks on the text by almost all major countries. The text called for agreement by 2015 on a new treaty that would take effect in all countries "after 2020."

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent, in an interview just before a late-night negotiating session that began at midnight, accused China of being responsible for the "after 2020" reference in the first draft. "China has made it pretty clear for the past few months that they're obstructing," he said.

"They're not in favour of anything that would require them to make absolute reductions. They have been very reluctant to step up and have been against just about everything that's been raised at the COPs [climate talks]this year."

While Mr. Kent was criticizing China, other countries were criticizing Canada. According to a report in the Times of India on Friday, Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she was "astonished and disturbed" that the Canadian government had signed the Kyoto treaty and then "junked" it "in a cavalier manner…without even a polite goodbye."

She also complained that Canada was unfairly blaming India for the latest disputes in the Durban negotiations.

In the new text, released at around midnight, there is no reference to any target date for implementing a new climate treaty. If this text is accepted in the final negotiations on Saturday, the Durban agreement will be so vague that it could be almost meaningless. The only specific agreement on timing would be the deadline of 2015 for negotiating some kind of treaty.

In the first draft, the world's nations would agree to begin immediate negotiations on a "legal framework" – rather than a "legally binding treaty" – to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The new framework would apply to all countries. This was a key demand of the United States and Canada, which have complained that big developing countries such as China and India did not have any legal obligations to limit their emissions under Kyoto.

But the proposed compromise was quickly rejected by the European Union, small island states, and developing countries in Africa and Latin America. Canada, too, objected to the first draft, Mr. Kent said.

The objecting nations said the proposed compromise was too vague and weak, since the phrase "after 2020" could mean any time. Environmentalists also sharply rejected the first draft, saying it would be a huge victory for the United States and a defeat for most other countries.

"It would convert Kyoto into a zombie, with the purpose only of preserving carbon markets until it completely disappears after 2020," said Pablo Solon, former chief negotiator for Bolivia and now an environmental activist.

Mr. Solon said the term "framework" is much too weak. "It will not be binding. So we're going from bad to even worse."

Steven Guilbeault, a veteran Canadian environmentalist and climate negotiations specialist, was equally critical of the proposed deal. "'Framework' doesn't mean a thing," he said.

Mr. Kent, however, argued that the term "framework" is just as strong as the term "treaty."

In the new text on Friday night, there is still no reference to "treaty" – which is believed to be anathema to the United States – but instead the goal is "a protocol or another legal instrument."

Meanwhile, several dozen protesters tried to occupy the conference hall where the Durban negotiations were happening Friday. But after 90 minutes of singing and chanting, they were evicted by security guards. Ten activists from Greenpeace had their accreditations revoked and were banned from the building.

– with a report from Erin Conway-Smith in Durban