Climate Talks Closer to Agreement on Plan with $100 Billion Aid

Envoys at United Nations talks are near an agreement that would set up a fund channeling a portion of the $100 billion a year in pledged climate aid to developing nations, part of a package to keep a lid on global warming.

Delegates from more than 190 nations are scheduled to finish two weeks of talks today in Durban, South Africa, where they’ve also considered how to extend the Kyoto Protocol’s limits on fossil fuel emissions, which expire next year.

“Things are starting to move,” said Alden Meyer, who has followed the annual gatherings for more than a decade for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based lobby group. “We’re likely to get an agreement. The question is how ambitious it will be, whether we can get the higher level of ambition needed to save the planet.”

With Japan recovering from an earthquake and European Union leaders meeting today in Brussels to save their common currency, ambitions for this year’s climate talks sidestepped adopting a new pact that would replace Kyoto, the only treaty limiting fossil fuel emissions blamed for damaging the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases hit a record last year, and scientists at the conference warned that current pledges leave the world on track for the biggest temperature increases by 2100 since the last ice age ended. Developing nations said they’re upset the industrial nations haven’t moved quicker.

‘Life or Death’

“The climate change effects we’re experiencing in Lesotho and other countries are a matter of life or death because we don’t have the safety nets that the developed world has,” Manete Ramaili, the southern African nation’s environment minister, said in an interview. “We have to have binding targets. It’s a must.”

Details of the package were still being negotiated last night by environment ministers and envoys from more than 190 nations. Yesterday, there was no word on exactly how they’d bridge differences over how to extend Kyoto, which developing nations said is essential to success in Durban.

While Kyoto set emissions caps for industrial nations, it included only voluntary measures for developing nations such as China and India, which have become two of the three biggest polluters since the treaty was negotiated in 1997.

The U.S. never ratified Kyoto; Japan, Russia and Canada refuse to extend their targets, and the European Union said it would only move ahead if all nations promise to join a binding deal that enters force no later than 2020.

Failure Possible

That issue could still derail the entire package, said Andrew Light, coordinator of climate policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based research group with White House ties.

“If the EU refuses to do Kyoto because they aren’t happy with what others and the U.S. are saying about the mandate debate and the meeting blows up, then the U.S. has lost everything it’s gained,” said. “The U.S. is one of the parties that might be the cause of that happening.”

Last night, the EU said it got the group of poorest and most vulnerable countries to work toward mandatory emissions cuts, and Brazil said it was working with UN envoys on the sort of “road map” the EU wants. China has said it would consider a binding target after 2020 if five conditions are met, starting with an extension for Kyoto.

Road Map

“On the road map we are working with a very open mind on the sequence of events that will lead us in a post-2020 phase of the fight against climate change,” Brazilian Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said last night. “This is not something that will divide us in the final hours of this conference.”

Ministers must still debate technical issues such as how to enact an extension and political ones like the exact legal nature of any future deal. Some of the most controversial matters have been postponed to next year’s meeting in Qatar.

“There are a whole bunch of options, varying from a new protocol to no decision,” said Mark Lynas, climate change adviser to Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, referring to the legal form of a new deal. “On the two or three critical issues, there won’t be any outcome until presumably 4 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, or even not then. My flight is 4 p.m. on the Saturday, which might be optimistic.”

Claudia Salerno, the Venezuelan envoy who helped derail a decision at the talks in Copenhagen two years ago, said she’s more confident an agreement will be reached this year.

‘Positive Outcome’

“The forces are converging for a positive outcome here,” Salerno said yesterday in an interview in Durban.

Todd Stern, the chief climate envoy for the U.S., which joined with Saudi Arabia to hold up the Green Climate Fund last week, said he’s confident that measure will move forward.

“It has made a lot of progress,” Stern said at a briefing in Durban yesterday. “It is an area which is among the most advanced. That’s going to get done. I’m confident of that.”

Stern also said he’d back the EU’s road map plan.

The envoys last year agreed to establish the fund that will help raise an unspecified portion of the $100 billion of annual aid that developed countries promised two years ago to mobilize by 2020 for climate-related projects. This year, they’re developing the governing rules for the institution.

Stern said the fund is part of a “balanced package” of measures whose other programs including ways to monitor and verify emissions also must make progress.

Envoys started to make more rapid progress when the South African hosts called on ministers from individual nations to take charge of different strands of the talks, said Meyer, from the group of scientists. New Zealand is working on greenhouse gas mitigation, Ecuador on programs to help nations adapt to climate change and the U.K. on a scientific review due by 2015.

South Africa also organized “indabas,” or informal gatherings of leaders, to talk about the way forward for the talks outside the structures of the UN meeting process.

’’We are very optimistic there will be an agreement to take us forward,’’ Jimmy Manyi, South Africa’s government spokesman said yesterday. “We do not envisage a situation where we have a deadlock.”

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