Global Warming ‘Damages’ Spur Rift at UN Climate Treaty Talks

The world’s richest and poorest countries are divided over whether to create a new fund to help vulnerable nations such as Bangladesh, Kenya and the Philippines cope with loss and damage caused by climate changes.

Developing nations at United Nations climate treaty talks in Doha are seeking aid through a mechanism that would insure against conditions the countries say they can’t adapt to, including extreme storms, erosion, floods and drought. The U.S. says there are already initiatives in place to deal with such issues, including a recently created UN adaptation committee.

“The issue with the big guys is whether there should be a new mechanism at all or we use existing mechanisms,” said Tony de Brum, head of the delegation of the Marshall Islands and representative of the Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, a bloc of 43 island nations pushing for a loss-and-damage fund.

The proposal is among the contentious issues threatening to slow negotiations for a new climate agreement by 2015. Envoys from islands and other developing nations say the matter wouldn’t be so urgent if wealthy economies lived up to their previous promises to provide aid.

It also goes to the “emotional equities that countries bring to this table and the very real example of the typhoon in the Philippines, making it so in their face,” Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the international climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, said in an interview in Doha.

Asian Storm

Storm Bopha killed at least 327 people and left 380 missing this week in the Philippines in the most devastating cyclone to hit the nation this year. The typhoon also marks the country’s 16th extreme weather event this year, according to Ronald Jameau, climate envoy for Seychelles and AOSIS representative.

“We are right now into the era of loss and damage,” Jameau said in Doha on Dec. 5. “What’s next after that? Destruction, disappearance of some of our islands.”

Malia Talakai of Nauru, lead treaty negotiator for AOSIS, has said the loss and damage fund ultimately would have to be “much more” than the $100 billion a year in climate aid promised by developed countries by 2020.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard says 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.

At a minimum, the islands want the UN talks to keep studying how a loss-and-damage mechanism might be established.

De Brum, speaking to day in an interview in Doha, says he’s open to the idea of having loss and damage dealt with for now in the existing adaptation committee.

“That might be a solution that’s readily available,” he said. “If that’s what we need to accept to get loss and damage off the ground that’s what we accept.”

Download: William Pesek on New York Floods as a Harbinger for Asia

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