U.S. Brushes Off Push for Detail on $100 Billion Climate Aid

U.S. Brushes Aside Push for Detail on $100 Billion Climate Aid
A barge loaded with coal on the Ohio River in West Virginia. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

The U.S. brushed aside demands from Brazil, China and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for richer countries to detail how they’ll deliver $100 billion in climate aid by 2020.

“The question of whether there’s a new commitment that gets announced here isn’t the right question,” Jonathan Pershing, a U.S. negotiator at UN global warming talks, told reporters in Doha today. If nations ask whether the U.S. is working on the goal, he said, “the answer is yes.”

Responding to Pershing at the same event, Gambian envoy Pa Ousman Jarju said, “we want figures on the table.” He heads the group of 48 least developed nations.

The comments indicate a rift between industrial and developing nations at the UN conference, where more than 190 countries are discussing next steps toward a treaty limiting fossil fuel emissions. The U.S. led rich nations in making the $100 billion finance pledge three years ago.

In another sign of tension, European Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said a text detailing work of one of the three tracks of the negotiations had too many options for ministers to consider and that talks on another stream of the discussions had halted entirely. She asked Qatar’s envoys to help broker a compromise.

While richer countries collectively delivered about $30 billion from 2010 through 2012, they haven’t said how they’d reach end-of-decade targets. Developing nations say they are worried that funds between 2013 and 2020 will dry up or fall below the initial $30 billion phase of financing.

‘Core Issue’

“The core issue is finance,” Xie Zhenhua, the lead envoy for China at the talks, told reporters today. “If we can solve finance issues, it will create a very good foundation for the solving of other issues.”

This issue is a “matter of credibility” for rich nations, Ban said yesterday at a briefing in the capital of Qatar. “This will be crucially important in facilitating the promotion of a legally binding agreement by 2015.”

Finance is crucial for an agreement on global warming because developing nations increasingly depend on the money after the worldwide economic slump, and few are willing to make commitments on limiting greenhouse gases without help from richer nations in cleaning up their energy supplies.

“Developing countries have a role to play as far as limiting greenhouse-gas emissions,” David Kaluba, a negotiator from Zambia, said in an interview today. “But we need to put numbers on the table. That is important.”

Both the U.S. and European Union are grappling with budget crises, and Japan is planning elections this month, making new commitments difficult. This year’s conference is working on streamlining the UN’s negotiation process, which currently works in three parallel tracks.

Issues Avoided

Delegates are sidestepping the more thorny issues of targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the legal nature of a treaty they plan, reducing the need for money to open the way for compromises.

Asked about how a compromise could emerge, Hedegaard said, “It’s a mix of developing countries actually seeing that there are actually donor countries ready to continue in the short term” and that “there is no way that can be done only through public money.”

Todd Stern, the lead U.S. envoy in Doha, said that the envoys will fail in their goal to form a new climate treaty by 2015 unless they grasp one of the most difficult issues, which is known as “equity.”

That concept seeks to ensure that all nations are treated fairly in the talks, taking into account their wealth and historical responsibility for causing climate change. Richer countries are concerned that developing countries hide behind the principle to avoid fossil fuel reductions.

U.S. View

“Let’s provide a thorough opportunity for parties to discuss all critical issues, including the principle of equity,” Stern told the conference today. “Unless we can find common ground on that principle and the way in which it should apply in the world of the 2020s, we won’t succeed” in forming a new treaty.

Scientific studies show greenhouse gases are on track to hit a record this year and that the world is on track to surpass the goal of keeping temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. The World Bank today said Arab nations may experience 6-degree temperature increases, costing farmers in Tunisia and Yemen alone $4.2 billion in the next 40 years.

“There will be lower rainfall, higher temperatures and ongoing encroachment of the desert,” Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank, said today in a briefing in Doha, adding that some cities in the region will become “unlivable. We’re going to have to build fridges for people to live in ovens.”

British Funding

On finance, the U.K. and Germany alone in the Group of Seven nations came forward with pledges this week. Britain earmarking 1.8 billion pounds ($2.9 billion) for climate aid for the three years starting in 2013. Germany offered 1.8 billion euros ($2.4 billion), the DPA news service reported, citing an interview with Deputy Environment Minister Katherina Reiche. Hedegaard confirmed the figure.

The U.S. has “every intention” of continuing to support climate finance, Pershing said, adding that President Barack Obama’s administration is considering what aid it can disburse next year.

Gambia’s Jarju said he’s optimistic that developed and developing countries will reach a “balanced” deal on finance by the time talks in Doha conclude at the end of this week.

“We are waiting until the last hour” to strike a deal, he said.

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