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FEATURE: UN talks must lay path to new climate deal

This article by Megan Rowling originally appeared on Alertnet.

The headline outcome from this year’s U.N. climate change conference, starting in Doha next week, may be an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s now-expiring accord for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, experts say. But they warn progress on other key areas – including a new global climate deal and more aid to help vulnerable states cope with extreme weather and rising seas – should not be put off.

Last year in Durban, more than 190 nations agreed to reach, by the end of 2015, a pact with legal force to slow climate change, and implement it from 2020.

“Doha is not really as big a decision point as we had in Durban and in Copenhagen (in 2009). We can’t expect a larger breakthrough to solve the problem of climate change. Rather we need to figure out a route to (a deal in) 2015 with positive spin-offs and actions along the way,” Sönke Kreft, a climate policy officer with Bonn-based think tank Germanwatch, told AlertNet.

Few analysts expect the Doha talks to yield major advances in boosting global ambition to curb planet-warming emissions. But individual countries that have yet to announce emissions reductions targets could do so, including Gulf states like the host nation Qatar, which emits more climate-changing gases per capita than any other country in the world.

As well as finalising a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, the Nov. 26 to Dec. 7 conference is tasked with deciding on the process for crafting a 2015 agreement.

“We need countries to show up to set out the rules of the game, and we need an agreed work plan (for the new climate agreement),” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI).

As part of that deal, developing-nation governments want to see “sufficient ambition” on emissions targets to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less, said Dan Hamza-Goodacre, who leads an initiative for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) to support climate negotiators. Another crucial issue for them is how the required emissions reductions will be divided between countries – an issue referred to as “equity” at the talks.

“It is a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation because we can’t know how the burden will be shared when we don’t yet know the overall level of ambition – and vice versa,” he said.

The United States and some other industrialised states are demanding that developing countries – particularly big emitters like China and India – should assume greater responsibility for cutting emissions. But many developing nations argue they should have smaller commitments because they have historically contributed much less to the problem, and their emissions per capita remain below those of richer states.

Sandy wake up call?

World leaders agreed in Copenhagen to limit the rise in the Earth’s temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. But a report from the World Bank warned on Monday that the planet is already on track to warm by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, and current pledges on emissions will not reduce this by much – a prospect that is supported by other scientific studies.

The most vulnerable countries hope that the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy in the United States last month will have impressed on Washington – which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol – that climate change is bringing greater human and economic losses around the globe.

“After super hurricane Sandy and prolonged drought in the U.S., and more intense and frequent natural disasters in different countries and continents this year, I think developed countries will agree in Doha for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, to cut back their emissions to help stabilise the global temperature regime,” Quamrul Chowdhury, a lead negotiator for the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), told AlertNet.

“Otherwise they will put their own economies and ecosystems on a great risky pathway beyond the coping capacities of people, communities and ecology. We must remember, adaptation has a limit,” he added.

Although the Doha conference is expected to launch a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, under which most industrialised nations agreed to cut their emissions by 5.2 percent over 1990 levels by the end of 2012, there are two sticking points that need to be ironed out.

The first is whether a second commitment period should run for five or eight years. The European Union, for example, wants it to run through to 2020, to bridge the gap until a new climate pact comes into force. But the poorest developing nations prefer five years, leaving open the option of deeper emissions cuts from 2018. For some of the bigger emerging economies, however, a shorter period brings the risk they could have targets imposed on them before 2020.

The other controversy is that countries that have exceeded their Kyoto Protocol target, like Australia and Poland, want to be able to carry over surplus tradable emissions units to the next period – in effect allowing them to make smaller reductions. Some governments say this should not be allowed.

Given that the first Kyoto Protocol period expires at the end of December, resolving these thorny questions is a key task at Doha. But with Japan, Russia, Canada and New Zealand declining to sign up to an extension, Kyoto’s effectiveness in curbing global emissions has dwindled.

“We need to support (a second period), and it would be helpful if others joined, but it won’t solve the problem because the share of emissions it covers is too small,” WRI president Andrew Steer told journalists last week. “The important thing is to get on with the job so that we have a climate change deal by 2015.”

Money worries

A key element of that deal will be the amount of money mobilised to finance action to tackle climate change in developing countries – both to help countries cope with climate impacts like droughts, floods and rising seas, and to develop in a cleaner way.

This will come into sharp focus in Doha because an initial “fast start” pledge of some $30 billion from rich nations over the 2010 to 2012 period runs out at the end of the year. The 2009 Copenhagen Accord promised to raise public and private climate finance of $100 billion a year by 2020, but little has been said about what will happen in the interim period, or where the money will come from.

LDC negotiator Chowdhury, who is from Bangladesh, said the fast start money was inadequate, and developed nations should commit in Doha to provide at least $30 billion annually for the next five years, and then $50 billion per year up to 2020. This would allow the most vulnerable countries to put their adaptation plans into action and pursue climate-resilient development, he added.

Other developing states and aid groups have also called for scaled-up funding targets from 2013-2019. For example, Climate Action Network (CAN) International, the world’s largest coalition of civil society organisations working on climate change, says rich nations should offer a 2013-2015 public finance package that is at least double the amount provided in the fast-start period, including $10-$15 billion for the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Nonetheless, some of the biggest donors – including the European Union, the United States and Japan – are saying only that they will continue to give climate aid, without signalling that it will rise, let alone by a specific amount.

“This is a worrying (conference) on finance,” said Tim Gore, who heads up Oxfam’s work on climate change. “We’re very concerned that finance levels could start going down in 2013 compared with the fast start money.”

The development charity, which advocates for poorer nations in the talks, wants commitments to a steady trajectory of scaled-up climate finance, as well as to innovative financing sources such as international levies on aviation and shipping, and a share of a financial transaction tax that is set to be applied in some European nations.

Experts fear, however, that the debt problems troubling many rich nations will prevent them making a collective interim finance pledge at Doha. Instead there may be climate aid contributions from individual governments, indications they will put money into the Green Climate Fund as it gears up next year, or positive moves on special taxes.

Ultimately industrialised countries may be planning to hold back on aid promises as a way of persuading developing nations to step up their efforts to reduce or limit emissions. Cash also could be used as a bargaining chip to water down the degree of legal force attached to a new climate agreement.

The end result, analysts say, could be a hybrid of voluntary and binding elements.

“I often ask (developing country) negotiators, ‘Do you want a weak, legally binding deal with no money, or a strong non-binding deal with money?’ It will be tough to get the ideal,” said CDKN’s Hamza-Goodacre. “What we want is a deal that reduces emissions, with money.”

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