Climate talks intensify; negotiators see progress
December 9, 2010 - Associated Press

CANCUN, Mexico (AP) --- Negotiators reported progress Thursday in resolving disputes over proposed final decisions at the U.N. climate conference, setting the stage for agreements on a support fund for poorer nations and other steps to ease the impact of global warming.

Once again this year the annual negotiations under the U.N. climate treaty, which end Friday, won't produce an overarching, legally binding deal to slash emissions of global warming gases. From the start, the talks focused instead on secondary areas, including setting up the "green fund" for developing countries.

But in that and in a half-dozen other areas, as they approached the final gavel, world environment ministers and other delegates still haggled over the wording of texts. Christiana Figueres, U.N. climate chief, nonetheless struck a hopeful note.

"I see a willingness of parties to move positions. I see active and open exchange in the ministerial consultations," she said. "But more needs to be done. I call on all sides to redouble their efforts."

Later Thursday, veteran Brazilian climate envoy Luiz Figueiredo, helping lead a key section of the talks, sounded more positive, echoing the sentiment of other delegates.

"We are engaging heavily with other parties. It is a good signal," he told reporters. "Parties are talking, parties are negotiating on the most difficult issues, so I am very hopeful that we will get to a good outcome tomorrow."

As for a comprehensive deal, the European Union joined with small island states and Costa Rica in proposing that parties commit to taking up a "legally binding instrument" at next year's climate conference in Durban, South Africa.

As some 15,000 delegates, environmentalists, business leaders, journalists and others met at this Caribbean resort, carbon dioxide and other global warming gases, byproducts of industry, vehicles and agriculture, continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, barely abated by modest emission reductions undertaken thus far.

Scientists say temperatures could rise by up to 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in this century without deeper cuts, leading to serious damage to coastlines, human health, agriculture and economies in general.

"We all will leave Cancun knowing very clearly that we have not very significantly changed the time window in which the world will be able to address climate change," Achim Steiner, the head of the U.N. Environment Program told reporters.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales, addressing the full conference, cited families already being deprived of water because of warming and drought, and islanders facing the loss of homes from seas rising from global warming.

If governments shun strong, mandatory emissions reductions, "then we will be responsible for 'ecocide,' which is equivalent to genocide because this would be an affront to mankind as a whole," the Bolivian leader said.

Reflecting Morales' passionately delivered address, the Bolivian delegation submitted a proposal --- with no chance of adoption --- for eliminating all greenhouse emissions by industrial nations by 2040.

Last year's climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, was supposed to have produced a global pact under which richer nations, and possibly some poorer ones, would be required to rein in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by industry, vehicles and agriculture.

That agreement would have succeeded the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which mandated modest emissions reductions by developed nations that expire in 2012. Alone in the industrial world, the U.S. rejected Kyoto, complaining that emerging economies, such as China and India, should also have taken on obligations.

The 2009 summit produced instead a "Copenhagen Accord" under which the U.S., China and more than 80 other nations made voluntary pledges to reduce emissions, or at least to limit their growth.

In a sign of the sensitivity of even voluntary pledges, the U.S. and China are squabbling in Cancun over an effort to "anchor" them in a fresh U.N. document. The Chinese want separate listings to maintain a distinction between developing and developed countries, and the Americans want a single integrated list.

The U.S. delegation also seeks detailed provisions for monitoring, reporting and verification, called "MRV," of how China and other developing nations are fulfilling those voluntary pledges. A leading environmentalist here accused American negotiators of blocking a decision on the green fund in "the kind of brinkmanship that costs lives."

"The United States continues to hold these important decisions hostage in an effort to get what they want on transparency and MRV. This is unacceptable," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.

The green fund would help developing nations buy advanced clean-energy technology to reduce their own emissions, and to adapt to climate change, by building seawalls against rising seas, for example, and upgrading farming practices to compensate for shifting rain patterns. Under the Copenhagen Accord, richer nations promised to provide $100 billion a year for the fund by 2020.

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