OPEC takes flak for UN climate veto

Only UAE and Bahrain in GCC decline to block proposal

The Bonn talks did not come any closer to a compromise on regulating greenhouse gases.
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Several OPEC nations have blocked a proposal for a UN inquiry into tougher action against global warming but not without a barrage of criticism from other developing countries. The victory for oil producers came a day before the latest round of UN climate talks closed in Bonn, Germany, without a major breakthrough on a new treaty to combat climate change.

A move led by Saudi Arabia on Thursday drove a wedge between oil producers and small island nations that say they have the most to lose from rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. The UAE and Bahrain were the only GCC states that did not support the Saudi veto. "We find it ironic and alarming that fellow developing countries would block such a paper that would assist the smallest and most vulnerable," said the spokesman for Barbados. "Is this the solidarity and brotherhood you so eloquently speak about?"

The oil producers' move occurred when negotiators debated a proposal to study the feasibility and effects of a push to limit the warming of the Earth to 1.5°C, rather than the 2°C of warming that most countries say is permissible. Small island states have warned that even 2°C of warming would have disastrous effects on their economies and have pushed to make 1.5°C of warming the official target. The Saudis objected to the proposal for an official study, saying it would not be able to account for the effects that stricter reductions of greenhouse gas emissions would have on oil producers and other countries whose economies are tied closely to fossil fuels. The veto was supported by Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Venezuela and was enough to kill off the measure in the UN's consensus-driven negotiating process.

The debate pitted the OPEC states against a number of influential players including Australia, South Africa and Nigeria, putting the Saudis in a politically awkward spot, said Antto Vihma, an expert on the climate talks at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki. "There was lots of bad blood - the Saudis had to use lots of political capital," he said. "These kinds of reviews are important and that's why Saudi Arabia stepped in because they knew it would create a lot of pressure on parties to act."

The Saudi move drew public criticism from other governments and even vandalism of a Saudi sign at the talks, an incident that is now being investigated by UN officials. GCC states took an active role in climate talks last week and in Copenhagen last December, even though many had previously opposed efforts to reduce carbon emissions by reducing use of fossil fuels. Of the GCC states, the UAE is the only country that officially recognises the Copenhagen Accord, the general agreement on the need to fight global warming reached at the December talks in the Danish capital.

The Bonn talks yielded no new compromises on the wider effort to advance beyond the accord to a binding treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries on Friday effectively killed off a draft text that would have defined the terms of the debate. Negotiators will meet in two more short sessions before high-level talks in Cancun, Mexico, in December. cstanton@thenational.ae