UN Global warming talks bog down in debate on $100bn aid

 

DOHA, Qatar

United Nations global-warming talks bogged down as envoys from more than 190 nations worked into a third night in Doha to settle differences on climate aid and fossil-fuel emissions that would pave the way to a new treaty by 2015.

"A number of questions are still unresolved," said Peter Altmaier, the German environment minister who was asked by the Qatari hosts of the talks, to help broker an agreement. "I expect a very long and extremely difficult night of negotiations. Perhaps in the morning we will have an impression whether a compromise is possible or not."

Industrial and developing nations remained divided about a $100 billion aid pledge for 2020, an insurance fund for climate disasters and the principle of which countries should shoulder the burden of shifting the world away from oil, coal and natural gas. The talks have extended beyond their scheduled conclusion Friday at 6:30 p.m., local time.

The complexity of the negotiations may unravel the work being done and lead to collapse of the meeting, said Jake Schmidt, who is observing the sessions in Doha for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"We're at a very delicate stage where ministers are going to have to clean up a mess that's been left for them to resolve," Schmidt said. "It's going to take a lot of coffee to get it done."

Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, a diplomat from Qatar who is presiding over the talks, told delegates that the meeting needed to finish on Saturday and that he was confident a deal was near.

"This is normal where we are now," Al-Attiya said in an interview. "Over the course of the next six, seven hours all the issues should have been flushed out and hopefully we should, between now and 6 a.m., get the deal set."

Diplomats are at least a day behind schedule in wrapping up three parallel strands of the discussions. One of the tracks finished with countries from the U.S. to Australia, Venezuela and Russia voicing objections. A blank page stood in as a placeholder for conclusions on aid for developing nations, the most controversial issue.

Russia expressed concern discussions may stretch into Sunday, which would match the record for the latest finish set last year.

"No one can predict now when we will finish," Oleg Shamanov from Russia said in an interview. "We do not have the balance among all three tracks."

The package would streamline the three strands of discussion into one track, which intends to draft a new treaty by 2015 coming into force by 2020. Also in this year's plan is an extension of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which limits greenhouse-gas emissions in industrial nations.

"After compromises are made by all parties, we can further improve the package," said Chinese delegation chief Xie Zhenhua. "We are willing to adopt a flexible approach and take the necessary compromises."

Successive envoys complained about elements of the texts, with developing countries criticizing the lack of ambition in emissions cuts and a dearth of finance pledges to boost climate aid toward the $100 billion industrial nations pledged three years ago to provide by 2020.

"We're quite a long way from a result," Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said in an interview. "Nothing's been finalized, and there's still ministerial consultations going on all of the items."

Off the agenda are deeper cuts from the three biggest polluters, the U.S., China and India.

Six environmental groups ratcheted up the pressure, saying envoys should reject the deal because it doesn't do anything now for the planet. ActionAid, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace International, Oxfam and WWF said the meeting risks failing because the ambitions of rich nations fall short of the demands of poorer ones.

This year's meeting has been dominated by a call from developing nations for a road map charting how industrial nations plant to deliver the $100 billion of aid promised for 2020. The funds are for projects that reduce emissions and protect against the effects of climate change.

"You have to put finance on the table to get results," Ivonne A-Baki, delegation chief for Ecuador, said in an interview on Dec. 6. "That way developing countries can truly reduce their emissions."

Clarity on future funding is important because a three-year period of "fast-start finance" totaling more than $30 billion ends this year. Developing nations want security that the flow of aid will continue.

Some countries have put money on the table. Pledges so far from the 27-nation European Union total at least 8.3 billion euros ($10.7 billion) over the next three years. That compares with the EU total of 7.2 billion euros under the three years ending in 2012.

It may be harder for other nations to make pledges. U.S. and Japanese envoys have said they plan to continue climate aid next year, without pledging concrete amounts.

There's also a dispute about "loss and damage" funds, which islands are seeking through a mechanism that would insure against extreme weather, erosion, drought and rising seas. European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said 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.

"The Americans want to kick the conversation down the road because they're terrified of anything that suggests liability," Nick Mabey, chief executive officer of E3G, a London-based non- profit group that promotes sustainability, said in an interview.

 

— With assistance from Alessandro Vitelli and Robert Tuttle in Doha and Wael Mahdi in Manama.

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