UN Envoys in Final Push for Climate Deal as Deadline Looms

UN Envoys Work Toward Global Warming Agreement as Deadline Nears
The opening ceremony of the Sessions of the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 8th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP8), in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 26, 2012. Photographer: EPA/STR

Envoys inched toward a deal at United Nations global-warming talks in Doha after working through the night to settle differences on climate aid and fossil-fuel emissions, paving the way to a new treaty by 2015.

“The contours of the package are becoming clear,” Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, a diplomat from Qatar presiding over the talks, told delegates today during an informal meeting to take stock of progress. “It’s clearly within reach.”

With the talks due to conclude today, industrial and developing nations remained divided about a $100 billion aid pledge for 2020, an insurance fund for climate disasters and the principle of which countries should shoulder the burden of shifting the world away from oil, coal and natural gas.

The complexity of the negotiations may unravel the work being done and lead to collapse of the talks, said Alden Meyer, who has been watching the talks for two decades for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s a procedural train wreck that could happen if they don’t pull it together,” Meyer said. “They’re making progress on the individual bits. But what needs to happen is for them to show how those bits fit into a political package.”

Diplomats are at least a day behind schedule in wrapping up three parallel strands of the discussions and have yet to produce final texts for the closing meeting to consider. A blank page stood in as a placeholder for conclusions on aid for developing nations, the the most controversial issue.

Marathon Talks

At the meeting led by al-Attiya, the Russian delegation expressed concern discussions may stretch into Sunday, which would match the record for the latest finish set last year.

“We are not going to be rushed into taking a decision because of time,” said Gambian envoy Pa Ousman Jarju, speaking for the UN’s 48 least developed countries. “We are here representing millions of people who are suffering.”

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard called on Attiya to force lower-level envoys to hand over the negotiations to ministers from the 194 nations at the talks.

“Time is running out,” Hedegaard said. “Please send the package to a ministerial” meeting. Attiya replied, “I have a long time; I can sit here one year with you.”

The package would streamline the three strands of discussion into one track, which intends to draft a new treaty by 2015 coming into force by 2020. Also in this year’s plan is an extension of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse-gas emissions in industrial nations.

China ’Flexible’

“After compromises are made by all parties, we can further improve the package,” said Chinese delegation chief Xie Zhenhua. “We are willing to adopt a flexible approach and take the necessary compromises.”

Successive envoys complained about elements of the texts, with developing countries criticizing the lack of ambition in emissions cuts and a dearth of finance pledges to boost climate aid toward the $100 billion industrial nations pledged three years ago to provide by 2020.

“There is a very poor level of ambition and a general pushing off of concrete outcomes for another year,” said Kieren Keke, the foreign minister of Nauru, who leads the Aosis bloc of 43 island nations. “The current package is largely about continuing to talk and very little about current action.”

Off the agenda are deeper cuts from the three biggest polluters, the U.S., China and India.

Failure Risk

Six environmental groups ratcheted up the pressure, saying envoys should reject the deal because it doesn’t do anything now for the planet. ActionAid, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace International, Oxfam and WWF said the meeting risks failing because the ambitions of rich nations fall short of the demands of poorer ones.

Envoys began the two weeks of talks Nov. 26 with three main aims, including spelling out a timeline for work toward the 2015 deal that would be binding for all, and extending Kyoto into a second period of emissions reductions from developed nations starting Jan. 1.

Nations also aim to tie up discussions under the so-called long-term cooperative action track, or LCA. That sets commitments by developing nations and industrialized countries not participating in Kyoto. Japan, Russia and Canada have renounced more cuts under Kyoto, which the U.S. never ratified.

‘A Mess’

“The LCA track is still a mess, so the only way to get around is probably by postponing a lot of decisions,” Bas Eickhout, a delegate from the European Parliament, said in an interview in Doha this morning. “There’s a huge push to close it because everyone is totally fed up with the negotiations’ three strands and doing issues three times in a row.”

This year’s meeting has been dominated by a call from developing nations for a road map charting how industrial nations plant to deliver the $100 billion of aid promised for 2020. The funds are for projects that reduce emissions and protect against the effects of climate change.

“You have to put finance on the table to get results,” Ivonne A-Baki, delegation chief for Ecuador, said in an interview yesterday. “That way developing countries can truly reduce their emissions. We’re talking about the only planet we have.”

Clarity on future funding is important because a three-year period of “fast-start finance” totaling more than $30 billion ends this year. Developing nations want security that the flow of aid will continue.

Financial Pledges

Some countries have put money on the table. Pledges so far from the 27-nation European Union total at least 8.3 billion euros ($10.8 billion) over the next three years. That compares with the EU total of 7.2 billion euros under the fast-start program. Germany, France and the U.K. made pledges this week.

It may be harder for other nations to make pledges. U.S. and Japanese envoys have said they plan to continue climate aid next year, without pledging concrete amounts.

“Not everybody has a budget process that is prepared to make specific commitments,” said Jake Schmidt of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

There’s also a dispute about “loss and damage” funds, which islands are seeking through a mechanism that would insure against extreme weather, erosion, drought and rising seas. The EU’s Hedegaard said talks on the topic aren’t yet “mature.” The U.S. doesn’t approve of any “liability-based structure,” said Jonathan Pershing, a U.S. negotiator.

“The Americans want to kick the conversation down the road because they’re terrified of anything that suggests liability,” Nick Mabey, chief executive officer of E3G, a London-based non-profit group that promotes sustainability, said in an interview.

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