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United Nations Talks Open in Tianjin to Tackle Threats From Global Warming

Talks aimed at reaching an agreement to mitigate climate change opened in China as the United Nations warned that time is running out before global warming reverses decades of economic development.

Delegates from 177 governments began a week of talks today in Tianjin, northern China, the first time the most populous country and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases has hosted a meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Tianjin meeting is the last chance before envoys meet in Cancun, Mexico, for Nov. 29-Dec. 10 talks to help reach an agreement that even the UN climate chief has said is unlikely this year. The last climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to produce a binding agreement even after leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama flew in to try to hammer out a deal.

“A concrete outcome in Cancun is urgently needed to prevent climate change impacts from reversing development gains that have been painstakingly achieved over the last few decades,” Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, said in Tianjin. An agreement in Cancun “may not be exhaustive in detail but it must be comprehensive in scope.”

Figueres urged delegates to focus this week on issues that can form the basis of an agreement in Cancun and to leave aside those that require further negotiation. Financing from industrialized countries to help developing ones is one area where immediate progress is possible, she said.

The Copenhagen talks broke down over issues including setting a global emissions reduction target and developing a system to measure and verify emissions cuts to help countries affected by climate change adapt.

Expiring Kyoto Targets

The talks are aimed at producing a climate treaty for when the emissions targets set by the Kyoto Protocol expire at the end of 2012.

Among the sticking points are a demand by countries for Chinese commitments to more aggressive emissions cuts as well as for China to accept more stringent verification of its climate change mitigation, said Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Reform Development Commission of China, the country’s top economic planner.

Some countries tried to tie those conditions to financial assistance to the least developed countries, he told reporters through a translator today.

Developed nations have pledged $30 billion in short-term financing from 2010 to 2012, $2 billion of which still needs to be sourced, Figueres said. The outline of a longer-term climate fund could also be agreed upon in Cancun, she said.

“Developing countries view financing as proof that industrialized countries are serious about the process,” she said. “We have confidence the developed countries will identify the full 30 billion in a timely fashion.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Stuart Biggs in Tokyo at sbiggs3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net.

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