Islands See ‘End of History’ as Goals Die at UN Talks
The Maldives, Kiribati and Tuvalu risk extinction from rising seas because nations aren’t stepping up commitments to cut greenhouse gases, a bloc of 43 island countries said as United Nations climate talks began in Mexico.
Dessima Williams, the ambassador of Grenada who heads the Alliance of Small Island States, said envoys from her organization are concerned that a text for the talks doesn’t mention their “red line” goal of keeping temperature gains since the 18th century below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The text, prepared by Zimbabwe’s Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, will be debated today.
“We are facing at this moment the end of history for some of us,” said Antonio Lima, an envoy from Cape Verde and vice- chair of the alliance, noting that Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands and Maldives are the most threatened. “All these countries are struggling to survive. They are going to drown. I have mountains in my country. I can climb. They cannot climb.”
The comments add to pressure on delegates in the Mexican resort of Cancun after U.S. and European Union officials said they expect no treaty from the talks to curtail global warming. Instead, they are stressing the need for a set of “balanced” decisions on issues such as verifying actions to cut emissions, creating a $100 billion climate aid fund and protecting forests.
Fires and Floods
Gains of more than 2 degrees would exacerbate the harmful effects of climate change, which already this year has been responsible for 21,000 deaths, twice the level in 2009, according to Oxfam. The aid charity that focuses on alleviating poverty said global warming is linked to record temperatures and floods in Pakistan that displaced 20 million people and wildfires in Russia that destroyed 26 percent of the nation’s wheat crop this year.
Rich countries have pledged about $28 billion in “fast start” funding through 2012 to help poor nations cope with climate change and prepare for future impacts.
The European Union today said it has channeled 2.2 billion euros ($2.9 billion) this year, touting the 27-member bloc’s commitment to helping vulnerable continues even as it continues to reel from a global economic slowdown.
“That’s in spite of the difficult economic situation and strong budgetary restraints all of us are under,” Peter Wittoeck, Belgian envoy who speaks for the EU, said today at a news conference in Cancun.
Almost half the money, which is part of the EU’s pledge to spend 7.2 billion euros on fast start projects between 2010 and 2012, has been allocated to help countries cut emissions, according to the EU. A third has been earmarked to help nations adapt to the impacts of climate change. Oxfam said more money needs to be devoted to adaptation.
“The adaptation gap must be addressed with the utmost urgency,” Oxfam’s climate policy adviser, Tracy Carty, said in a statement.
The group is calling for a climate fund to be established in Cancun that devotes at least 50 percent of funds to adaptation.
The U.S., the world’s biggest industrialized emitter of greenhouse, has promised to contribute its “fair share” of climate aid. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration spent about $1.7 billion under the program in fiscal 2010.
Negotiators in Cancun today will debate proposed text about half the length of the official negotiating document, prepared before the talks as a possible final agreement from Cancun.
A year ago, when the envoys last met in Copenhagen, efforts to write a new treaty collapsed, resulting in a non-binding package of promises from the U.S., China, India and other countries. While 140 nations have since signed up to that package, the Copenhagen Accord, the document isn’t a formally recognized UN text.
With the World Meteorological Organization warning that emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for damaging the atmosphere are at a record, the delegates have yet to work out a way to extend the cuts to carbon dioxide output they agreed in Kyoto, Japan in 1997.
The discussions will ratchet up next week, with the arrival of about 25 mainly Latin American heads of state, said Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, who is chairing the talks.
Other attendees include U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Nancy Sutley, an adviser to the White House, as well as Duke Energy Corp. Chief Executive Officer James Rogers Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent.
Bolivian President Evo Morales will attend the talks on Dec. 9. Mexican officials say about 25 heads of state and government will join next week.
Progress in Cancun should include “anchoring” the Copenhagen pledges on greenhouse gas reduction and limitation -- made by every major emitter -- into the UN process, U.S. delegation chief Jonathan Pershing said. He also called for transparency in the way countries monitor, report and verify their emissions -- or MRV in UN jargon. He said he’s working to iron out differences with the Chinese delegation. The U.S. and China are the world’s two biggest emitters.
“It’s extremely important to have a clear sense of understanding about what countries are delivering,” Pershing said. “The best way to do that is through a procedure in which that becomes public and transparent.”
Pershing and Wittoeck both said the new text needs to say more on the mitigation actions countries will take to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
“The text is incomplete,” Wittoeck said. “There is a major gap in terms of the building blocks on mitigation and MRV.”
At the same time, Wittoeck said the approach of narrowing down options for an accord makes sense because the talks mustn’t get “bogged down” with endless options in brackets, which signal areas that have yet to be agreed.
Bringing the Copenhagen pledges into the formal texts, drawing up rules to govern MRV, reform and expansion of the international carbon markets, and fixing some problems associated with the existing emissions treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, are the EU’s priorities in Cancun, lead European Commission negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger said.
A new mechanism is needed to allow developed countries to achieve part of their emissions-reduction goals by paying to slash carbons in sectors of developing country economies, such as the waste industry, lighting and construction, Runge-Metzger said. Delegates also need to reform rules on land use and ensure spare emissions permits held by countries such as Russia and the Ukraine, which already emit less than their targets for 2012, aren’t rolled on beyond then as current rules allow, he said.
“If we do not address these weaknesses, this would reduce developed countries’ current emissions pledges to virtually zero,” Runge-Metzger said.
The Copenhagen pledges, including a 20 percent reduction commitment from 1990 through 2020 by the EU and a 17 percent cut from 2005 through 2020 by the U.S., still fall short of the 2- degree warming limitation goal laid out in the Copenhagen Accord, Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief envoy leading the talks, said yesterday. She’s called for a step-by-step approach in the dialogue, rather than a push for a treaty in Cancun.
“Anchoring the numbers is important, but so is elevating the numbers,” Williams of Grenada said, calling for a treaty to be wrapped up at next December’s summit in South Africa.
Williams said her alliance is calling for an insurance mechanism to be set up to compensate vulnerable nations for natural disasters and longer-term effects of warming such as desertification.
“We don’t want to be the sacrificed countries of the 21st century,” Lima of Cape Verde said.
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