Thousands of environment experts were set to gather in China on Monday in a bid to kick-start stalled UN talks on climate change, amid warnings that time was running out to broker a deal.
The six days of talks in the northern port city of Tianjin, due to begin at 10:00 am (0200 GMT), are part of long-running efforts through the United Nations to secure a post-2012 treaty on tackling global warming.
The talks are the first time China has hosted a major international climate change conference or a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting.
Little progress has been made since world leaders failed to broker a deal in Copenhagen last year and the talks are being seen as crucial in rebuilding trust ahead of another UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico next month.
“Tianjin must be the moment when countries begin clearing the fog,” Jennifer Morgan, climate and energy programme director for the World Resources Institute, said in a briefing paper on this week’s conference.
“They need to demonstrate their deep willingness to find solutions and move forward in a productive manner. This will go a long way to providing clarity for people around the world that Cancun — and the UN process itself — can be a success.”
The final goal of the process is a treaty aimed at curbing the greenhouse gases that scientists say cause global warming, which in turn could have catastrophic consequences on the world’s climate system.
The treaty would then potentially be clinched late next year at a UN summit in South Africa, in time to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires at the end of 2012.
However, after the Copenhagen failure and the continuing battles between developed and developing countries over who should shoulder responsibilities for curbing greenhouse gases, expectations have been lowered.
The UN’s climate change chief, Christiana Figueres, warned last week that progress in negotiations at Tianjin, Cancun and beyond were going to be very slow.
Speaking in the United States, Figueres said that no “big bang” deal on tackling climate change was possible, only slow, incremental steps.
“Now this progressive approach is probably a sane approach, but it is in stark contrast to the urgency of the matter,” said Figueres, executive secretary of the 194-member UNFCCC.
“That’s the problem — that we can only go in incremental steps but the matter is really very urgent.”
Devastating floods in Pakistan and China this year, as well as fires in Russia, are just a taste of the extreme weather that scientists say humans will suffer through if world leaders do not curb greenhouse gas emissions soon.
The phenomenal economic growth of China has seen it overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in recent years, and its efforts to limit emissions will be under the spotlight this week.
After being blamed by many in the developed world for derailing the Copenhagen talks, analysts say China is holding the event partly to demonstrate its commitment to the UN process and clean energy.
Nevertheless, China is expected to hold firm on many of the key disputes with the United States and other developed nations that have led to the current gridlock.
One is its insistence that developing nations should not have to commit to binding targets on cutting emissions.
In Tianjin, the roughly 3,000 delegates from governments, industry groups, non-government organisations and research institutions are expected to focus on preparing potential deals on specific issues so they can be signed in Cancun.
One key issue is whether negotiators can make progress on a promised fund that would eventually be worth 100 billion dollars a year to help developing countries cope with climate change.