Stalled on treaty, climate talks turn to money
'The world is waiting for fruitful negotiations' at Cancun climate conference, says one participant.
Sun, Nov 28, 2010 at 7:06 PM
BOTTLED PLEA: A giant bottle displaying a message inside it and displed by the organization Oxfam International, sits on the beach next to children playing in Cancun, Mexico. (Photo: Israel Leal/AP)
Facing another year without a global deal to curb climate change, the world's nations will spend the next two weeks debating how to mobilize money to cope with what's coming — as temperatures climb, ice melts, seas rise and the climate that nurtured man shifts in unpredictable ways.
Beginning Nov. 29, 15,000 government delegates, environmentalists, business leaders, journalists and others will gather in the meeting halls of this steamy Caribbean resort for the annual conference of the 193-nation U.N. climate treaty.
They meet late in a year that may end tied for the hottest globally in 131 years of record-keeping.
As the world warms, the long-running U.N. negotiations have bogged down, unable to find consensus on a legally binding agreement requiring richer countries — and perhaps some poorer — to rein in emissions of carbon dioxide and other industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming.
The Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives and a recent historic shift in emissions — developing countries now produce more greenhouse gases than the old industrial world — all but guarantee the standoff will drag on, at least for another year or two.
"The world is waiting for fruitful negotiations," Mexico's environment secretary, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, told The Associated Press.
U.N. officials hope for "incremental progress" on side issues, not an overarching deal, in two weeks of negotiation ending with three days of high-level bargaining among the world's environment ministers.
"Governments need to prove the intergovernmental process can deliver and come to an agreement," U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres told reporters outside the beachside Moon Palace Hotel.
Mexican naval vessels offshore joined a giant security cordon ringing this sprawling resort area in a country plagued by drug wars, kidnappings and other crime.
Trying to regain momentum
Hoping to revive momentum in the talks, delegates look for decisions leading to better terms for developing nations to obtain patented "green" technology from advanced countries, and toward a system for compensating poorer nations for protecting their forests.
In particular, the developing world wants a significant deal on finance, a decision to establish a green fund to handle billions in aid dollars pledged by developed nations to help poorer countries adapt to a changing climate by, for example, building shoreline protection and upgrading water systems to deal with drought, and to install clean energy sources.
In a nonbinding Copenhagen Accord reached by world leaders at last year's climate summit in the Danish capital, richer nations set a goal of $100 billion annually in such climate finance by 2020.
The fund's operational and leadership details would likely be left for post-Cancun negotiation, as would the key question of how it would be financed. A U.N. panel of international political and financial leaders has presented a menu of revenue-raising options, including levies on international flights and on foreign-exchange transactions.
More immediately, less-developed nations will raise concerns about short-term aid, "fast-start finance" promised in the Copenhagen Accord.
"There's been too little for small island developing states. It's a trickle," said Grenada's U.N. ambassador, Dessima Williams, chair of an alliance of island states.
At Copenhagen, industrial nations as a group pledged $30 billion in quick financing over 2010-2012. Independent analysts find that governments individually since have promised $28 billion for the three years.
Poorer nations complain much of the money may not be new, but funds simply reshuffled from other development programs. At Cancun, they're expected to demand a clearer accounting of fast-start finance.
That "would build confidence in the overall funding process," Robert Orr, a U.N. assistant secretary-general, told reporters in New York. "We need new and additional money to address the problem, not repackaged money."
Expectations on both sides
On the flip side, the developed north will seek a better accounting from China, India and other emerging economies of the south on what they're doing to slow the galloping growth of their greenhouse gas emissions.
Nations north and south pledged under the 2009 accord to voluntarily lower emissions by specific amounts or, in the case of emerging economies, to slow emissions growth. Developing countries also agreed to some international scrutiny of the steps they take, but the U.S. complains China has backtracked on that.
At Cancun, India will submit a compromise monitoring plan it hopes will help satisfy the north on the south's emissions actions, while the south obtains a better accounting on climate finance.
Monitoring is "the crux of all issues at Cancun," India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, told the AP in New Delhi.
The Copenhagen emissions pledges, even if all were met, would take the world only 60 percent of the way toward preventing serious climate change, the U.N. Environment Program reported last week.
Scientists say emissions overall should be cut 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent a dangerous temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) above preindustrial levels. Temperatures already rose 0.7 degrees C (1.3 degrees F) in the 20th century.
The Copenhagen pledges would together reduce emissions by only 18 percent, independent analysis shows. In the U.S. case, emissions would be cut by only 3 percent below 1990 levels.
A bit of history
For 13 years the U.S. has refused to join the rest of the industrialized world in the U.N. climate treaty's Kyoto Protocol, a binding pact to curb fossil-fuel emissions by modest amounts.
The rise of Republicans in Washington, many of whom dismiss powerful scientific evidence of global warming, seems to rule out for now U.S. legislation to cap emissions, essential for drawing others into a binding global deal to succeed Kyoto, expiring in 2012.
American negotiators say Washington will never submit to a new Kyoto-style deal on emissions unless China, India and others take on commitments under a legally binding treaty. The Chinese and Indians counter that they're still too poor to risk stifling economic growth, and the historic responsibility for industrial emissions lies with the north.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, seeks limited emissions reductions via executive action. But the rest of the world, from Europe to island states facing rising seas, is skeptical of the American will to take demanding long-term action.
As the debates drag on, heat-trapping carbon dioxide fills more of the atmosphere. From 280 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration stood at 386.8 ppm in 2009.
If too little is done, temperatures this century may rise by up to 6.4 degrees C (11.5 degrees F), leading to severe climate disruption, say scientists of the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The disruption may already have begun.
Researchers point to this summer's historic heat wave in Russia and nationwide floods in Pakistan as portents of things to come. In the Arctic Ocean, the summer melt of the ice cap has reached unprecedented proportions in recent years, and studies suggest the summer ocean may be ice-free as early as this decade.
Here in Mexico, research points to a drying out and shrinking of farm output in some regions, which might lead to a greater exodus of Mexican migrants to the U.S.
(Associated Press writer Katy Daigle in New Delhi contributed to this report.)
Copyright 2010 AP News
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