China and India should be spared the full burden of fighting climate change, the United Nations said on Tuesday in an agenda-setting report published just days ahead of an intergovernmental conference to agree to a successor to the Kyoto protocols.
The report of the UN Development Programme recommends that countries such as China and India should be required to reduce their emissions by only 20 per cent by 2050, while the rich industrialised countries shoulder a cut of 80 per cent.
The report will provide ammunition for developing countries wishing to avoid adopting stringent targets on emissions. China, India and others have argued that rich countries should carry more responsibility for the climate because most of the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere came from the growth of their industry.
But the White House made it clear at international meetings on climate change in September that it would not sign up to any agreement that did not include China and the other developing nations going through rapid industrialisation.
Heated discussions over the share of the burden that each country should take for cutting emissions are likely to be the main focus of UN talks on climate change beginning next week in Bali, Indonesia. The talks, the most important since the Kyoto protocol was drafted in 1997, will mark the first negotiations on a potential successor to the treaty, the main provisions of which expire in 2012.
The report estimates that the world needs to spend about 1.6 per cent of gross domestic product each year until 2030 in order to prevent emissions rising to dangerous levels. Developed countries should aim to cut their emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, the UNDP report said.
In a sign of the scale of the task facing ministers at Bali the report also risked opening old wounds by questioning whether the carbon-trading system established at Kyoto was less effective at reducing emissions than a straightforward carbon tax – such as the one proposed on Tuesday by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in Beijing.
Kevin Watkins, lead author of the report, said: “Cap-and-trade is not particularly working. We need to develop the strategy into a carbon tax.”
Emissions trading finally started under the Kyoto protocol in 2005, and last year the market was worth about $30bn, according to the World Bank. Most of the transactions took place under the European Union’s emissions trading system, which was designed to help EU member states meet their commitments to cut emissions under the protocol.
Mr Watkins told the Financial Times: “If the rich countries can cut emissions by 80 per cent we have a 50:50 chance of [limiting] temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels [which scientists say is the limit of safety].”
The UN’s report came as internet search company Google supplied fresh evidence of investor enthusiasm for low-carbon technology by saying that it would branch out into renewable energy.
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