Global Warming Envoys Set to Chart Path to Pollution Cuts

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Photographer: AFP via Getty Images

Envoys from 190 nations are close to agreeing upon the first building blocks for the next treaty aimed at fighting global warming, sketching the way to worldwide cuts in fossil-fuel emissions.

The delegates, due to finish talks today in Warsaw, will make progress on a “loss and damage” mechanism to assist those coping with storms, floods and erosion caused by rising seas and higher temperatures, said Christiana Figueres, the United Nations diplomat organizing the meeting.

Progress depends on developing countries such as India and China agreeing to a timetable for when they’ll join in cutting the pollution blamed for global warming, and on industrial nations channeling climate aid to the poorest. Success would lay the foundation for a global deal, a goal that disintegrated when the group last attempted it in 2009 in Copenhagen.

“They’ll have an agreement,” said Jake Schmidt, who’s observing the talks in Warsaw for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental research group. “It’s tricky because everyone’s economy is based on energy, and there’s a lot of mistrust between countries. But if they hold grudges, the planet suffers.”

The delegates are mostly national environment ministers. To reach an agreement in Warsaw this week, setting the stage to finalize a treaty in Paris in 2015, they must find a way to sidestep animosity between richer nations and poorer ones about who’s to blame for global warming and whether compensation should flow.

Finish Line

“Out of some 50 decisions scheduled for the Warsaw summit we have reached decisions on more than 40,” Beata Jaczewska, the deputy environment minister of Poland, which is helping guide the talks, told reporters today. “I am convinced we will reach an agreement.”

The typhoon that devastated the Philippines this month amplified the anger of developing countries that industrial nations are backtracking on previous pledges. Japan, Australia and Canada have watered down commitments on emissions. The Warsaw talks mark the first time since the UN started these discussions in 1992 that ambitions have been scaled back.

“Many Asian countries have suffered great damage and human losses,” Xie Zhenhua, the lead envoy for China in Warsaw, told delegates on Nov. 20. “Developed countries should not escape from or delay the implementation of their intentions.”

Aid Pledges

Industrial nations have so far held back from detailing how they will fulfil a four-year-old pledge to boost climate-related aid to $100 billion by 2020. About $10 billion a year flowed in the past three years. Nations such as the Philippines, India and Brazil say they need predictability for their budgets. Developed nations put forward $100 million of new pledges to fill a fund that helps poorer nations adapt to climate change.

“Finance is the most important issue,” Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said in an interview. “If you want fresh air in the process, we need to have a decision about financing. If not, it’s my feeling it will be a source of contamination for the next few years.”

Individual nations have made some commitments. Japan said it will provide $16 billion in the next three years, an announcement that was eclipsed by the Asian nation’s decision to shelve plans for cutting emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

Norway said it will pay out at least $500 million a year through 2020, and it joined with the U.K. and U.S. in a $280 million promise to a forest-protection program. Germany said it will put $40 million to help build the capacity of the Green Climate Fund, an organization established by the UN that’s yet to receive capitalization.

‘Dismay’

“What I hear with dismay is scaling down of ambition and lowering of targets for emission cuts,” Jayanthi Natarajan, India’s minister for environment and forests. “We have seen a huge ambition gap between what developed countries have pledged and their historical responsibilities.”

Warsaw isn’t likely to mark a breakthrough in the effort to contain greenhouse gases. Instead, the talks will put in place technical elements needed to make an eventual treaty workable. At last night’s meeting, Korolec said discussions on forest protection won agreement.

A draft outcome released by the UN sketches a timeline that includes a call for envoys to begin drafting elements of an eventual agreement early next year. It sets no deadline for when countries should make emissions pledges for the anticipated 2015 deal, falling short of a key demand by the European Union.

Responsibility to Act

Debate over the timetable goes to the heart of the most divisive issue at the talks -- who should move first in rolling back emissions. Discussions on the wording of the draft text are businesslike and constructive, Artur Runge-Metzger, an EU envoy chairing those talks told the stocktaking meeting. He postponed until tomorrow the conclusion of the meeting, allowing further time to fix the details.

The 1992 treaty establishing the talks said the rich should move first, and for India, that means industrial nations should put forward their greenhouse gas pledges before developing nations. For the U.S. and EU, that’s counter to a point that was settled at climate talks two years ago, to have all nations involved in solving the problem.

“We cannot afford any backtracking,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in a speech yesterday. U.K. Energy Secretary Ed Davey said, “we need to see more ambition from all parties.”

Loss and Damage

The loss and damage mechanism is the most important provision for the developing world. Envoys agreed a year ago to establish it here, and are still sketching out how it will work.

“The loss and damage text is almost there, and we won’t leave Warsaw without it,” Bangladeshi envoy Quamrul Chowdhury said in an interview. “We can’t afford to.”

The U.S. and EU reject suggestions the mechanism would compensate developing nations for climate-related damage and want to see the system used to help nations adapt to climate change. They see the body as providing scientific research, technical advice, and a role coordinating with other organizations working in health, development and disaster aid.

“We can find a landing zone that we can all be proud of,” South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa, charged with steering the loss and damage talks, said in the stocktaking meeting late yesterday.

Draft Text

A draft of the loss and damage text dated yesterday omits the call by developing countries for compensation for the harm they expect to suffer due to global warming. At the same time, it agrees to set up an as yet unnamed body to address the issue, and funded by developed nations.

“We cannot have a system where we have automatic compensation whenever severe weather events happen around the planet,” Hedegaard said.

“We don’t know yet whether it’s all going to come together,” Todd Stern, the lead U.S. State Department official at the talks, said at a briefing today. “I think that it probably will. There’s a lot of hours left in this process.”

The talks are scheduled to end at 6 p.m. Warsaw time, though in practice, they always run overtime. Delegates do expect to reach some kind of resolution.

The conference “is now on the verge of delivering virtually nothing,” China’s lead negotiator, Su Wei, told envoys late yesterday. “This week saw a finance ministerial with almost no actual finance, and loss and damage talks that have stalled because developed countries refused to engage.”

Su made critical allusions to Japan, Australia and the EU, without naming them, and said the talks had gone “backwards.”

“Some claim that this process is broken,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has attended the talks for two decades. “It’s just waiting for the world’s governments to summon the courage to stand up to the fossil fuel polluters and take the actions needed.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in Warsaw at amorales2@bloomberg.net; Ewa Krukowska in Warsaw at ekrukowska@bloomberg.net

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

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