14 Dec 2018

Climate talks: 'The levels of concern are so different' - Shaw

4:20 pm on 14 December 2018

Climate talks are being hampered by some countries more concerned about economic prosperity than people's survival, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says.

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James Shaw says some countries have not made essential decisions before sending their ministers to the COP24 summit that is nearing a conclusion in Poland. Photo: RNZ

Mr Shaw was speaking from the COP24 conference underway in Poland, where countries are tasked with writing the first ever global rulebook on climate change.

It will govern countries' efforts in adhering to their commitments under the Paris Agreement.

One of the sticking points is whether efforts under the Kyoto Protocol will count towards Paris. Essentially, countries can't agree on how they'll count their greenhouse gas emissions, or their efforts to reduce them.

Mr Shaw told reporters this morning these were technical matters negotiators had been grappling with for three years. "Frankly, they should've gotten past that kind of detail before all the ministers showed up for the final three days," he said.

He said New Zealand found that "pretty irritating."

"Maybe it's just a function of kind of overall UN process, in which you've got 192 countries negotiating something that is a very technical document. It just makes it quite difficult."

Plenary meeting during COP 24 Katowice, Poland on 13 December, 2018.  (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto)

Delegates listen to speeches during COP24 in Katowice, Poland. Photo: AFP

Broadly speaking, Mr Shaw said a big frustration for him was the differences in countries' commitments to fighting the effects of climate change.

"On one side you've got countries who are saying that they want a set of rules that are quite permissive and lets them do things, because they're worried about the potential impact on their Gross Domestic Product.

"On the other hand, you've got a group of countries who are saying 'this is an existential question for us, and our very survival as a culture and as a people is at stake'."

Mr Shaw said at times, it could be pretty hard to swallow.

"Some countries are like 'oops, you know, we're sort of worried about a couple of points of Gross Domestic Product, more than we're worried about your continued existence'.

"And because of that fundamental, different world view it makes it very hard to resolve some of those issues, because the levels of concern are so different."

He said he was confident the rulebook would be completed, but has extended his hotel booking into the weekend in anticipation the conference would go overtime.

Mr Shaw predicted countries would end up being broadly happy with it but there would also be things in it that New Zealand, and others, won't necessarily like.

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