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133 countries walk out of UN climate meeting over global warming compensation row

Published time: November 21, 2013 02:42
Delegates attend the Convention on Climate Change COP19 conference at the National Stadium in Warsaw November 19, 2013.(Reuters / Kacper Pempel)

Delegates attend the Convention on Climate Change COP19 conference at the National Stadium in Warsaw November 19, 2013.(Reuters / Kacper Pempel)

The G77+ China group of 133 countries walked out of the United Nations climate change conference in Warsaw on the Loss and Damage mechanism after developed nations refused to agree to terms.

Loss and Damage is set to become a mechanism where the world’s developed economies provide financial assistance to the developing world as compensation for greenhouse gases caused by the industrialization of developed nations. It was created in Doha in 2012 at the annual UN climate change summit known as COP18. The Doha climate summit also adopted an extension of the Kyoto Protocol up to 2020.

In Wednesday’s session, G77+ China negotiator Juan Hoffmeister walked out of a closed-door meeting when delegations from the industrial block refused to agree that the mechanism for such compensation is needed now and not after 2015 when a new climate change agreement is expected to be signed in Paris.

Hoffmeister said that key elements of the mechanism were missing from a weak draft.

“We want the draft to be strong. We are with G77. We support very strong steps for loss and damage, and anything that does not fulfill that should be highlighted,”
Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said after the walk out.

As part of the demands, the developing countries want developed nations to honor a 2009 Copenhagen pledge to provide up to $100 billion by 2020 for environmental damage.

"The 100 billion is a goal we need to establish a very clear roadmap,"
said Natarajan. "Unless that is provided for, it will be impossible for us to take forward any meaningful discussion and we feel the negotiations will be rendered completely meaningless," she told journalists.

Representatives of the poorer nations argued that the financial burden associated with global warming is out of reach for them.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said while his country is trying to allocate funds for climate change, the costs are "just too high".

Poland's envoy Marcin Korolec, chairing negotiations, commented saying that the discussion was "challenging".

"We could not have predicted the economic darkness that we have all lived through for the past five years."

Another stumbling block in the negotiations is sharing the future emissions curbs, as developing nations want to create a UN body charged with compensating for environmental damage.

"Developed countries need to do more... now, and not transfer all the burden of climate change to the poor of the world after 2020," said Natarajan.

Washington has opposed the position saying that a deal under which "the developed countries would be treated in one way, in one section of the agreement, and developing countries in a different part of the agreement" was a "non-starter", US negotiator Todd Stern said.

Stern also explained that Washington had contributed about $2.7 billion in 2013, "the highest number that we have had in the last four years".

Russia’s climate envoy and presidential advisor Alexander Bedritsky argued that a separate loss and damage mechanism is not needed and that the new deal should be based on the principles of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“We believe that in the medium term, efforts should be directed at improving the efficiency of existing adaptation, technology and financing mechanisms to strengthen the capacity of developing countries, including loss and damages claims, rather than creating new mechanisms,” Bedritsky said, reiterating Russia’s earlier position on climate change.

Last week at the start of the conference Russia’s Representative Oleg Shamanov told reporters that “the issues of loss and damage from climate change should be discussed in the framework of existing adaptation mechanisms, technological and financial assistance and capacity building.”

The Sheldon Glacier with Mount Barre in the background, is seen from Ryder Bay near Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica.(Reuters / NASA)

The EU representative Connie Hedegaard said that 1.7 billion euros will be allocated for the year 2014-2015. "The EU understands that the issue is incredibly important for developing countries. But they should be careful about … creating a new institution. This is not [what] this process needs," said Hedegaard, as quoted by the Guardian.

"We cannot have a system where we have automatic compensation when severe events happen around the world. That is not feasible."

Last week at the start of the 12 day conference in Poland, the G77+China group was discussing a Brazilian proposal that called for the creation of historical responsibility for global warming.

“Our proposal is meant to make available for countries a metric of their historical responsibility in terms of temperature rise. It would be one of the elements in the future agreement,”
Brazil’s Ambassador Jose Antonio Marcondes de Carvalho explained last week.

Under such framework the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would be tasked with creating a methodology to calculate countries total output of greenhouse gases since 1850 in determining each nation’s historical responsibility for global warming.

The US, EU, Canada, Norway, Israel, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand opposed Brazil’s plan with the US delegation arguing that such an approach is flawed.

“Temperature is a lagging indicator and does not show up until well after emissions have occurred,”
Kim Carnahan said on November 11. “Such an approach would provide some countries with cover to act in a manner that is much less ambitious than their current capabilities.”

Trees are reflected in the waters of the Yesa reservoir, about 50 km (31 miles) from Pamplona, northeast Spain March 22, 2012. High atmospheric pressure has blocked Atlantic Ocean frontal systems from moving into Europe and Spain has registered its lowest rainfall levels since 1947 in the December-February period, which have affected wheat and barley production levels, according to local media sources quoting the country's Agriculture Ministry.(Reuters / Vincent West)

Meanwhile, the US and Australia argued that there is no necessity in a "loss and damage" mechanism to be separate from existing systems of mitigation and adaptation.

“USA, EU, Australia and Norway remain blind to the climate reality that's hitting us all and poor people and countries much harder. They continue to derail negotiations in Warsaw that can create a new system to deal with new types of loss and damage such as sea level rise, loss of territory, biodiversity and other non-economic losses more systematically," Harjeet Singh of ActionAid International said as quoted by the Hindu.

The UN chief Ban Ki Moon has urged the negotiators to come to an agreement.  "Climate change is the greatest single threat to peace, prosperity and sustainable development," Moon said in Warsaw.

In an effort to keep global temperature from rising beyond 2 degree Celsius the UN chief stressed that a greater funding for clean-energy development is needed.

“Our primary focus needs to be on launching and scaling up mainstream solutions that will attract hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The bulk of institutional investors’ assets are in high-carbon investments.”

According to a report by the World Resource Institute, developed nations have spent $35 billion in international climate finance through the “fast-start finance” period between 2010 – 2012,  exceeding the initial target of US$30 billion.  

Five countries - Germany, Japan, Norway, Britain, and the US gave a combined sum of $27 billion, adaptation funding received $5 billion, while mitigation received $22.1 billion.

The report also found that “a continued commitment to scaling up climate finance is needed for both political and practical reasons.”