By Mariette le Roux | AFP
DOHA, Qatar – U.N. climate negotiators bickered in Doha on Monday over cash and commitments needed to curb Earth-warming greenhouse gases, even as fresh alarm bells were rung about the perils the planet faces.
Halfway through 11-day talks, nearly 200 nations remained far apart on issues vital for unlocking a global deal on climate change, said delegates at the talks in Qatar’s capital.
Poor countries were insisting Western nations sign up to deeper, more urgent cuts in carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol after the pact’s first round of pledges expires at year’s end.
They also were demanding the rich world commit to a new funding package from 2013 to help them cope with worsening drought, flood, storms and rising seas.
Resolution of both questions should smooth the way to a new treaty that must be signed by 2015 and enter into force in 2020 to roll back global warming.
“What gives me frustration is that we are very far behind what science tells us we should be doing,” U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change chief Christiana Figueres told a press conference, but added she retained “hope.”
Some delegates began to voice fears of deadlock ahead of ministerial-level talks, starting on Wednesday, to crown the annual negotiations under the U.N. banner.
A new study warned Sunday that Earth could be on track for warming above 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 – at least double the 2 C (3.6 F) limit targeted by the U.N.
It follows other research which said polar ice-cap melt had raised sea levels by nearly half an inch (11 millimeters) over the last two decades, and that Arctic ice shriveled at an unprecedented rate in 2012.
The head of the International Energy Agency, Maria van der Hoeven, warned Monday that limiting warming to 2 C “is becoming more difficult and more expensive with every passing year.”
And the Alliance of Small Island States, gathering nations at high risk from warming-induced rising sea levels, said: “Time is running out to prevent the loss of entire nations and other calamities in our membership and around the world.”
Despite the warnings, observers say the Doha talks have become stuck.
One problem is discord within the European Union on whether individual nations should be allowed to hold on to unused greenhouse gas emissions quotas – so-called “hot air.”
These leftover allowances, estimated to total about 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide, were allotted under the first leg of Kyoto.
EU member Poland and some other countries insist on retaining their tradable “hot air” into the follow-up Kyoto period – a move vehemently opposed by the developing world and island states who say this will further raise greenhouse gases to dangerous levels.
The Doha talks are meant to set a time frame and country targets for the second period of Kyoto.
The first leg of the protocol bound about 40 rich nations and the EU to curbing emissions but excludes the two biggest polluters – the United States, which refused to ratify it, and China.
On criticism that the European Union’s 20 percent reduction target was not ambitious enough, the bloc’s climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said one should also look at countries like the U.S., China and Russia that are making no commitments under Kyoto.
“Since 1990 … emissions in the EU decreased by 18 percent while in the United States it increased by 10.8 percent. There is this challenge for all of us to do even more.”
Another area of bust-up is money.
Developed countries are being asked to show how they intend to meet a promise to raise funding for poor nations’ climate mitigation plans to $100 billion per year by 2020 – up from a total $30 billion in 2010-2012.
The developing world says it needs a total of $60 billion from now to 2015 – but no commitments have been made.
U.S. chief negotiator Todd Stern told a press conference that these were “obviously challenging fiscal times,” but his country had every intention to continue funding “to the greatest extent that we can.”