UN Climate conference adopts “Green Fund” stuck over Kyoto

AFP, Saturday 11 Dec 2010

Global talks on climate change on Saturday set up a new fund to manage billions of dollars in aid to poor nations in a hard-fought package urging deep cuts in industrial emissions.

Climate Change
Activists form the word hope as a question with their bodies, near the site of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun (AP)

Global talks on climate change on Saturday set up a new fund to manage billions of dollars in aid to poor nations in a hard-fought package urging deep cuts in industrial emissions.

Turning the page a year after the chaotic climate summit in Copenhagen, more than 190 countries meeting in Mexico kept ambitions in check and made headway on sticking points instead of seeking a wide-ranging treaty.

In a change from Copenhagen's venomous atmosphere, the talks in the beach resort of Cancun ended after two sleepless nights with standing ovations for the chief negotiator, Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

"We have the chance to build a new story in which economic growth, poverty alleviation and care for the environment are truly compatible," Mexican President Felipe Calderon said as he closed the two-week conference.

But the talks left much of the hard work to next year's talks in South Africa -- including the crucial question of by how much all nations will cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

Bolivia was the main holdout. To the dismay of many tired negotiators, Bolivia's Pedro Solon took the microphone repeatedly after midnight, saying the deal would not halt climate change but "put more humans in a near-death situation.

"Espinosa overruled him, saying that UN rules for consensus did not give him "veto power." The vast majority of countries offered support. Australian Climate Change Minister Greg Combet called the deal a "historic step forward.

Chief US negotiator Todd Stern said: "Obviously the package is not going to solve climate change by itself, but I think it is a big step forward."

In a key area, the agreement set up a "Green Climate Fund" to administer assistance to poor nations, which many experts say are already suffering more floods and drought as temperatures steadily mount.

The fund will be steered by a board of 24 members chosen evenly from developed and developing nations. For the first three years, the new international organization would be overseen by the World Bank -- a point of controversy for some activists who distrust the Washington-based lender.

The European Union, Japan and the United States have led pledges of 30 billion dollars in immediate assistance, as well 100 billion dollars a year to start by 2020.

A broader issue is just how wealthy nations would raise the money, with few governments enthusiastic to pledge more money in tough economic times. Some envoys advocated setting taxes on airplane and shipping fuel.

The agreement called for "urgent action" to cap temperature rises at no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and asks for a study on strengthening the commitment to 1.5 degrees Celsius.The proposal says it "recognizes that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science."

The accord at Copenhagen included similar language, but it was never approved by the full UN-led talks.The Cancun deal also agreed on ways forward on fighting deforestation, a leading cause of climate change, and on monitoring nations' climate pledges.

But the talks were stuck for days over the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark treaty whose obligations on wealthy countries to cut emissions run out at the end of 2012.

With a new treaty looking distant, the European Union led calls for a new round of commitments under Kyoto. Japan opposed a new Kyoto round; pointing out that the treaty named after its ancient capital covers only 30 percent of global emissions because top polluters including China and the United States are not part of it.

In a compromise embraced by Japan, the Cancun agreement called for work on a second period of the Kyoto Protocol "to ensure that there is no gap" but did not oblige countries to be part of the new round.

Japan faced intense pressure to compromise, with British Prime Minister David Cameron telephoning his counterpart Naoto Kan, diplomats said.The Kyoto Protocol makes no demands on emerging economies to curb emissions. China has refused to be subjected to a treaty, although India in a surprise shift in Cancun said it would at least consider binding action in the future.

Environmentalists were mostly positive. Tim Gore of anti-poverty movement Oxfam welcomed the Green Climate Fund and said the draft Cancun accord "breathes new life" into UN-led talks on climate change.

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