16 December 2008

Rich-poor rift adds hurdles to climate deal

By Alister Doyle, Reuters, Sun Dec 14, 2008 1:58pm GMT


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POZNAN, Poland, Dec 14 (Reuters) - World leaders led by President-elect Barack Obama may be needed to help agree even a modest U.N. climate treaty in 2009 after a rift deepened between rich and poor nations over funds and new goals to cut emissions.

About 190 nations aim to work out a new treaty by mid-December 2009 but two weeks of preparatory talks in Poland ended on Saturday with developing nations accusing the rich of doing too little to help them cope with impacts such as droughts, floods, disease and rising seas.

"Poznan achieved what it was supposed to but it ended on a rather grim note," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters after countries including Brazil and India faulted the rich for a lack of generosity.

"It's a worrying sign that people are taking up positions for a hard negotiation," he said of the sour closing session.

The Poznan talks, attended by environment ministers to review progress halfway through a two-year push for a new treaty, showed that more than half the work remained to be done.

The Poznan talks lacked the urgency and ambition of 2007, when they were launched at a meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

In Bali, a core group of 40 ministers stayed up one night in negotiations almost until dawn. One evening in Poznan, when talks came to a crunch, many in the same group sent deputies to negotiate and went to a party.

After the latest meeting De Boer welcomed a suggestion by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a summit in New York in September 2009 to get world leaders, including Obama, involved.

Many other experts agree a push from the top is needed to secure a new treaty after faded hopes in Poznan. Many are pinning hopes on Obama, who has promised a more aggressive climate policy than President George W. Bush.

Recession Lowers Emissions?

Recession in many nations, more than a treaty, may slow industrial emissions in coming years -- dimming pressure on the rich to promise sweeping new cuts for 2020.

Deutsche Bank said last week that industrial emissions in the European Union could fall 10 percent next year from 2007. Terry Barker, an economist at Cambridge University, said emissions fell 35 percent in the great depression of the 1930s and might do so again.

"We are concerned about the widening gap in trust between developed and developing countries," South Africa's Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said. "Some developed countries are still playing hide-and-seek with the climate."

The European Union agreed in Brussels on Friday on a historic pact to cut emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 -- after concessions to heavy-polluting eastern EU power generators.

But the wrangling distracted EU delegations in Poznan and developed nations made little progress on new goals for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Australia is due to announce new goals on Monday.

"A passive EU joined the U.S. as the second lame duck in the Poznan pond, while Canada, Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia openly undermined progress," said Kim Carstensen of the WWF environmental group.

At Poznan, a main achievement was to unblock a fund to help developing nations adapt to the impacts of climate change -- for instance by building flood defences, or developing drought- or flood-resistant crops.

But the fund would draw on credits totalling only $80 million -- a fraction of the tens of billions of dollars a year the United Nations says will be needed by 2030 to help adapt to climate change.

Julia Marton-Lefevre, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, suggested a new approach to the glacial pace of U.N. talks.

"These talks focus too much on what governments should do. I'd like to see meetings of ordinary people around the world to discuss what they can do to change lifestyles and cut emissions," she told Reuters. (Editing by Katie Nguyen)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved.

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