Copenhagen: Billions in Aid Seen as Key to Climate Talks Success

By | February 23, 2010

The allure of $30 billion in climate aid for poor nations holds the key to helping restore confidence in U.N. talks on fighting global warming and stopping them from unraveling. But there’s only months to figure out a way to start deploying the cash, say the world body, negotiators and greens.

A sense of despair has shrouded U.N. climate talks after what many say was a disappointing outcome of last December’s Copenhagen summit at which world leaders crafted a non-binding political accord in the final hours of the meeting.

While groundbreaking in some ways, the accord left nations struggling to figure out how to achieve the ultimate objective of years of negotiations: a tougher pact that succeeds the existing Kyoto Protocol and strengthens the fight against climate change.

Money could be one way to try to restore momentum, and trust, some analysts feel. “There needs to be some kind of mutual understanding of where to move forward. My sense is that finance is a good one for that,” said Kim Carstensen, head of environmental group WWF’s global climate initiative.

The accord promises $10 billion a year in aid from 2010-12, rising to $100 billion a year from 2020 and scores of countries have submitted action plans to curb emissions by 2020, effectively supporting the document.

It also makes clear that steps by all major emitting nations, rich and poor, were key to limit the impacts of rising seas, floods and more disease as the planet heats up.

“I think the finance part of the accord is the critical test of credibility and I don’t think any hedging about implementation of that will be seen kindly by developing countries,” a senior climate negotiator said on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, the head of the U.N. Environment Program, expected developing nations could be able to apply for some of the $30 billion promised in the accord within months. If that didn’t happen, that part of the accord would be in trouble, he said.

Poorer nations feel the rich have broken past climate aid promises and aren’t doing enough to cut their own emissions, creating years of mistrust that have undermined climate talks.

Yet China, India, Brazil and other big emitters have ramped up efforts to curb the growth of their emissions and expect the rich, particularly the United States, to finally step up.

China has the world’s third largest wind capacity, behind the United States and Germany. Growth last year was highest in the world at 13 gigawatts, bringing China’s total to 25 GW. The government has set a 100 GW target for 2020 — about twice Australia’s total power generation capacity.

Getting back around the negotiating table is also crucial. The chaotic scenes in the final hours of Copenhagen created doubts over the U.N.’s ability to deliver a tougher climate pact.

“We’ve gone into a whole new level of complexity in terms of the international change regime and its future,” said Stephen Howes, a director of the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University in Canberra. “There’s nothing in that political agreement (Accord) which says how it will be converted into a legal treaty, when it will be converted or even whether it will be converted,” he said.

Some negotiators say ways must be found to help the U.N. get back to work and try to resolve impasses. In a first step, a select group of negotiators on Monday decided Germany would host an extra session of U.N. climate talks in April, the first of the year, ahead of the main Nov 29-Dec 10 meeting in Cancun in Mexico. But the April meeting would not be a formal negotiation session.

Over the coming months, nations must also try to settle once and for all what the new climate pact might look like. The accord, which was not formally adopted by the meeting in Copenhagen, adds an extra layer to the existing negotiations.

For several years, nations have been working on ways to succeed the Kyoto Protocol and negotiations have followed a twin-track path.

One looks at expanding Kyoto from 2013 and the other looks at longer-term climate actions and includes the United States, which never ratified Kyoto.

Prior to the final hours of Copenhagen, these twin tracks were the only negotiating paths to guide the talks and have yielded hundreds of pages of complex negotiating texts.

“The Copenhagen Accord provides guidance,” another senior climate official said. Talks this year shouldn’t just try to return to negotiating the existing texts and pretend Copenhagen didn’t happen, said the official, who requested anonymity.

There also remains uncertainty on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. Many rich nations want a new pact that commits all major emitters to emissions curbs, not just wealthy nations, and say Kyoto hasn’t worked. The Accord barely mentions it.

One way forward may be to put aside efforts to clinch a new legally binding pact by Mexico or by 2011.

The focus should be getting nations to meet emissions cut pledges under the Accord, Howes said. But for that to happen, actions must speak louder than words.

“If China can show it can drive a wedge between its economic growth and the growth in its emissions and show that it is on a low-carbon growth path, then that would generate more momentum,” he said.

(Additional reporting by David Stanway in Beijing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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