Tensions mount as UN climate talks near end
U.N. climate talks are heading into the final stretch with a host of issues unresolved, including a standoff over how much money financially stressed rich countries can spare to help the developing world tackle global warming.
That issue has overshadowed the talks since they started last week in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to host the slow-moving annual negotiations aimed at crafting a global response to climate change.
Tensions built up Thursday - the penultimate day on the schedule - as the Philippines made an emotional call for action to keep global warming in check, citing the devastation caused by a powerful typhoon that killed around 350 people.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace and five other activist groups accused rich nations of pushing the talks to the "brink of disaster," while a small group of warming skeptics appeared at a side event where they dismissed the entire process as a sham to transfer wealth to the poor world.
British climate change skeptic Christopher Monckton even managed to slip into a conference hall where he addressed a plenary session, apparently mistaken for an official delegate. A tweet from the U.N. climate secretariat said he was "debadged and escorted out" of the venue "for impersonating a Party" and violating the conference's code of conduct.
Rich nations pledged three years ago to deliver long-term financing to help poor nations switch to clean energy and adapt to rising sea levels and other impacts of global warming. They offered $10 billion a year in 2010-2012 in "fast-start" financing and said the amount would be ramped up to $100 billion in 2020. But they didn't say how.
Developing countries are demanding firm pledges before the Doha conference ends, like a midterm target of $60 billion in the next three years, or written agreement that funds will be scaled up annually until 2020. But rich countries have been reluctant to make such commitments, citing the financial turmoil that is straining their budgets.
"We are not going to leave here with promises upon promises," said Gambia delegate Pa Ousman Jarju, who represents a group of least developed countries. "The minimum that we can get out of here is a demonstration that there will be $60 billion on the table moving onward."
Negotiators were working into the night trying to resolve that issue. They were also trying to finalize an agreement to formally extend the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions pact for rich countries that expires at the end of this year.
The U.S. never joined Kyoto while Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Russia don't want to be part of the extension, meaning it would only cover about 15 percent of the world's emissions of greenhouse gases.
Governments have set a deadline of 2015 to agree on a wider deal that would include both developed and developing countries, which now represent a majority of the world's emissions.
Philippine envoy Naderev Sano said that deadly storms like Typhoon Bopha, which hit his country earlier this month, were nightmare scenarios the world may face more frequently if climate change is left unchecked.
"As we vacillate and procrastinate here, we are suffering," he said. "Heartbreaking tragedies like this are not unique to the Philippines."
Climate scientists say it's difficult to link a single weather event to global warming. But some contend the damage caused by the recent Hurricane Sandy and other tropical storms was worse because of rising sea levels.
The goal of the U.N. talks is to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 C (3.6 F), compared to preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 C (1.4 F) above that level, according to the latest report by the U.N.'s top climate body.
A recent projection by the World Bank showed temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4 C (7.2 F) by the year 2100.
"I'm getting concerned that ministers are not stepping up to the mark and providing solutions that we need at this stage of the game," Gregory Barker, Britain's minister of climate change told The Associated Press.
"We need increased flexibility on all sides and a higher sense of urgency," he said. "Developed countries also need to demonstrate a clear ambition across the board in terms of climate goals."
Climate activists focused their criticism on developed nations. Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace said the U.S., in particular, was a stumbling block to the negotiations.
The Obama administration has already taken some steps to rein in emissions, such as sharply increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and investing in green energy. But a climate bill that would have capped U.S. emissions stalled in the Senate.
In a message to the conference, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said "there are leaders in Congress who understand the urgent threat facing the globe, and we are dedicated to preventing the terrible impacts of unchecked climate change."
Her message contrasted with that of another U.S. senator, Republican Jim Inhofe, who spoke in a video recording shown at the side event in Doha with climate skeptics. Calling global warming a "hoax," he said the focus of the Doha conference was not the environment, but "spreading the wealth around."
In 2010, a survey of more than 1,000 of the most cited and published climate scientists found that 97 percent of them believe climate change is very likely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
"It's getting harder and harder to be a climate denier as the evidence of climate change grows," said Michael Oko, a spokesman for the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank. "Fortunately, I'm sure the negotiators here won't let this take away from what needs to be done to address this global challenge. We need more solutions, not distractions."