With exhausted negotiators still unable to reach agreement at the Durban climate talks, Canadian environment minister Peter Kent is defending himself against a scathing attack from an Indian minister who was angered by Canada's criticism of the major developing nations.
The clash between Mr. Kent and the big developing nations -- including India and China -- is emblematic of the acrimony that has clouded the Durban negotiations, which went into overtime today. More than 24 hours after the talks were scheduled to end, there is still no sign of an agreement at Durban, and the length of the negotiations is setting a record for any of the annual summits since the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997.
On Friday, there was an extraordinary war of words between Mr. Kent and the Indian environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan. According to a report in the Times of India, Ms. Natarajan said she was "astonished and disturbed" that the Canadian government had signed the Kyoto climate treaty and then "junked" the treaty "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.
Mr. Kent, speaking to journalists at Durban today, acknowledged that he had complained about the "lack of commitment and movement" by the BASIC group of countries, which includes China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
"The very low-key gentle remark to which there was an overreaction last night basically said that Canada supported ... that there needed to be a sense of urgency," Mr. Kent said. "We also supported the EU proposal generally for a roadmap – although we were dismayed by the lack of commitment and movement by the BASIC countries. We didn't finger-point at individual countries. There was a certain obvious sensitivity, and I think it was an overreaction."
Mr. Kent noted that Canada has repeatedly called on the major emitting countries – including China and India – to begin reducing their emissions. "When one is in frank and honest discussions trying to achieve a major accomplishment, one speaks directly to one's friends and trading partners," he said. "If there's a problem, it's in the reaction, I think."
In an interview on Friday night, Mr. Kent sharply criticized China's role in the negotiations. "China has made it pretty clear for the past few months that they're obstructing," he said. He said China was largely responsible for an early draft agreement that would have postponed the implementation of a new climate treaty "after 2020." He added: "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."
The extension of the Durban negotiations today, more than 24 hours after the talks were scheduled to end, is making history for the longest-ever climate talks, and might even continue for another day, Mr. Kent said. But the marathon talks have become "characteristic" of how the climate summits achieve results, he said.