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US blames China, Canada blames UN, ahead of Cancun climate talks

Canadian and American negotiators are setting low expectations for next week's international climate talks in Mexico, while the British are keeping a stiff upper lip.

U.S. lead negotiator Todd Stern held a news conference in Washington on Monday. A standoff between the US and China --- the world's two top emitters of greenhouse gases --- stalled talks a year ago in Copenhagen. And while the recent Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives has dashed hope for a new American initiative, Stern continued to point the finger at China and other developing nations:

…[T]he reality is that almost all the growth in emissions right now is in the developing world, which I don’t say by any way of criticism. It's… just connected to the fact that the developing world is developing. It's perfectly normal, perfectly natural.

But the developed world is basically on a flat line in terms of maybe growing a little bit but not much at all. And the growth, the very dramatic growth, is happening in the developing world.

And the challenge is going to be fundamentally -- it's not going to happen overnight -- but it's fundamentally for the developing world, for technology to develop enough for the developing world to develop but… on a lower-carbon model than the old industrialized countries used at a point when there weren't low-carbon alternatives. So we've got [to] very rapidly -- and a lot of this is going on, but it's got to keep going on in an aggressive way -- develop low-carbon alternatives, and get those disseminated….

Canadian negotiator Guy Saint-Jacques is among a growing number of participants who have begun to question whether the United Nations is really the best forum for such complicated discussions.

The UN gives each nation a veto power. That means 190 countries must agree, or there is no deal.

Saint-Jacques has downplayed the fact that the Conservative government has hitched its policy on reducing greenhouse gases to that of the deadlocked United States, and focused instead on the UN process in a recent interview with The Canadian Press:

I find it's a very frustrating process, because it means you're not working on a consensus basis, you're working on unanimity basis... Any country can block any point on the discussion...

If this process were to fail, I think at that point there will be calls to try to see what else can be done to tackle this very urgent problem, which is global warming...

Because of the urgency of the problem, at some point it would be normal to start to look at what else could be done.

Britian's Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, agreed that there is "obviously not going to be a legal treaty" in Cancun, but remained upbeat in an interview with The Telegraph:

I am traveling to Cancun very much with the hope of getting the show back on the road...

We want to see progress at Cancun. We do not want to see a confrontational shambles that involves a lot of name-calling.

We are within shouting distance of a serious deal which we can rely on to tackle this massive problem.

Huhne was referring to proposals for a series of "mini-deals" on how the world will measure emissions, how money will be raised to help developing countries reduce emissions.

Monte Paulsen reports on carbon shift for The Tyee.

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