UN climate talks seek limited deal as costs soar

OSLO - Almost 200 nations meet in Mexico this month to try to agree a “green fund” for poor countries and other steps toward an elusive climate treaty amid warnings that inaction is driving up the costs of tackling global warming.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 16 Nov 2010, 6:03 PM

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

After failure to agree a treaty at last year’s summit in Copenhagen, ambitions for 2010 have been lowered to a modest package that includes a fund to manage aid to poor nations, new ways to share clean technology and to protect tropical forests.

“Countries have realised since Copenhagen that there is no one big solution,” Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, said of the UN-led talks in Mexico’s Caribbean beach resort of Cancun from Nov. 29 until Dec. 10.

“We need to take the process one step forward,” she said.

“Everything tells me that there is a deal to be done,” she said of negotiations to slow a creeping rise in global temperatures that the UN panel of climate scientists says will bring ever more floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.

But even a limited deal at Cancun — where only environment ministers will meet rather than world leaders who went to Copenhagen — is a tall order after a year of bickering between China and the United States, the top greenhouse gas emitters.

Each says the other should do more, taking the focus off other nations’ inaction at a time when budgets in developed nations are tight and opinion polls show many people are far more worried by high unemployment.

“China and the United States being stuck in a deadlock is a very comfortable mode of failure for everyone involved,” said Shane Tomlinson, director of development at the E3G climate think-tank in London.

$1 trillion

Underscoring a need for urgency, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report last week the costs of a strong assault on global warming by 2030 had risen by $1 trillion to $18 trillion simply because of delays in 2010.

“If there is still no agreement in Cancun and South Africa (host of the next UN talks in late 2011), this cost will increase further and this will make it even less likely that we ever have an agreement,” IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said.

“It will definitely be an increase in the order of hundreds of billions of dollars,” he told Reuters of extra costs to shift from fossil fuels towards wind, solar and other clean energies.

Temperatures are on track for 2010 to be the warmest year since records began in the 19th century. The year saw floods in Pakistan and drought in Russia. BP plc’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted fossil fuel risks.

The Cancun negotiations are seeking to extend and widen the UN’s Kyoto Protocol, which obliges industrialised nations except the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

Developing nations say the rich have to agree an extension of Kyoto, with deeper cuts. Kyoto backers say others, including Washington, must then take on binding commitments.

But U.S. President Barack Obama will be unable to legislate planned cuts in emissions announced in late 2009, after the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in mid-term elections earlier this month.

Still, Figueres said Washington should reiterate what she calls Obama’s “pledge” in Copenhagen to cut emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, or 3-4 percent from 1990.

China, India, Brazil and other emerging nations say they need to burn more fossil fuel energy to end poverty. Beijing says it is investing heavily in green energy, but is resisting U.S. calls for international oversight of its climate pledges.


Analysts say the talks in Cancun will be a test of the UN’s ability to stay relevant when all decisions require unanimity — from Pacific island states worried by rising seas to OPEC producers who fear a loss of oil and gas revenues.

“The stakes are quite high for the UN in Cancun,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute in Washington.

The planned package including a green fund, measures to protect tropical forests that soak up carbon dioxide and help the poor adapt to climate change would help rebuild trust.

Failure could undermine the role of the United Nations on climate change, with talks drifting for years like the Doha round of trade talks. Or the United Nations could be reduced to handling aid, rather than an overhaul of the world economy.

“The UN process needs to show it is off the life support mechanisms it has been on this year,” Tomlinson said.

Rich and poor countries are also locked in disputes about $30 billion of “fast start” aid promised in Copenhagen to help poor nations shift to greener energies and adapt to impacts of global warming from 2010-12.

Some aid is starting to flow, but poor nations say it is insufficient and much of it rebranded from previous promises rather than “new and additional” as promised in Copenhagen.

“There are serious question marks on the additionality factor,” said Farrukh Iqbal Khan, a Pakistani official who chairs the Adaptation Fund board, a UN source of funds to help countries cope with the impacts of climate change.

Developed nations also promised in Copenhagen that aid, to help the poor shift from fossil fuels and adapt to a warmer world, would rise to $100 billion a year from 2020. The money would be overseen by the green fund.

Figueres calls climate aid the “golden key” to progress in Cancun. Fast start aid promises, led by Japan with $15 billion for 2010-12, add up to $30 billion. The European Union said it had fulfilled a promise to give 2.2 billion euros ($3.07 billion) in 2010.

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