UN climate chief faces widening rich-poor split

OSLO/LONDON - Incoming U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica inherits a widening split between rich and poor nations over how to slow climate change, with almost no chance of a treaty in 2010, analysts say.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 18 May 2010, 9:07 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 3:44 AM

Figueres, picked by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday, says she wants rich nations to keep promises of more aid and aims to rebuild trust after the Copenhagen summit in December fell short of a legally binding deal. ⅛ID:nLDE64G2C1⅜

But a new, 42-page document prepared for the next U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, from May 31-June 11 underscores deepening splits over climate policy after the summit in Denmark merely agreed a non-binding Copenhagen Accord.

The text, dated May 17, shows that Bolivia has added a sprinkling of radical demands, including for rich nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 100 per cent from 1990 levels by 2040 — an almost impossible goal of “carbon neutrality”.

“It’s really a re-start of negotiations,” said Nick Campbell, chair of the climate working group at the International Chamber of Commerce. The text was also complicated by elements of a non-binding Copenhagen Accord from the summit.

“The critical outcome from the Bonn meeting will be an agreed text to start negotiating on.” Business wants clear climate policy to make investments, for example in power plants.


Figueres will try to overcome the splits when she takes over from Dutchman Yvo de Boer on July 1. Any treaty has to be agreed by unanimity.

Most experts are already sceptical about the chances of working out a new, binding climate pact at the next major U.N. climate meeting in Cancun, Mexico, from Nov. 29-Dec. 10.

“There’s very little chance of a deal this year, or next year either,” said Paal Prestrud, head of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

Figueres is likely to focus on the building blocks of a deal, also including new green technologies or programmes to help adapt to climate change, rather than insist they all be agreed in a single “big bang” of a legally binding treaty.

“I believe Cancun will see the delivery of most of those components in the Copenhagen Accord,” she told Reuters. Figueres has been a climate negotiator since 1995 and has a deep understanding of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.

The Copenhagen Accord sets a non-binding goal of limiting a rise in world temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times, and a target of $10 billion a year in aid from 2010-12, rising to at least $100 billion from 2020.

“Cash will be the litmus test for the accord,” said Kaisa Kosonen, climate policy adviser for environmental group Greenpeace. Many European nations are trying to cut development aid and ease creaking budget deficits.

The first head of the secretariat from a developing nation, Figueres wants the rich to lead without waiting for everyone else. “This chain reaction of ‘you first, sir’ is not a very helpful attitude,” she said.

Many nations have been waiting for the United States, the number two emitter of greenhouse gases after China, to set goals before committing to tougher action.

U.S. President Barack Obama wants to cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, a cut of about 4 percent below the U.N. benchmark year of 1990. But legislation is stalled in the U.S. Senate.

De Boer and Figueres’ job as “executive secretary” has not been upgraded to the rank of U.N. “Under Secretary-General” to give it a higher profile and clout equal to that of the U.N. Environment Programme.

“That discussion is still going on,” Danish Climate and Energy Minister Lykke Friis, whose country steers climate talks this year, told Reuters.

Figueres may win authority to put pressure on rich nations if Costa Rica sticks to its own greenhouse gas goals.

While most rich nations would reject Bolivia’s demands for them to eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, Costa Rica reckons it can be “carbon neutral” by 2021, with forests soaking up its limited industrial carbon emissions.

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