Climate talks host says it's time for agreements

Climate talks host says it's time for agreements
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - 1:29pm

CANCUN, Mexico – After more than a week of wrangling, the time has come for politicians to nail down a series of climate agreements and lay the foundation of a wider pact to hold back global warming, the president of U.N. climate talks said Wednesday.

Negotiators worked late into the night Tuesday to narrow options and polish the language of draft accords that should be finalized and adopted Friday.

Now, "political decisions are needed to move forward," said Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, who presides over the two-week conference at a beachside resort in Cancun. "What is needed now is political will, not more discussion."

If passed, the set of agreements on secondary issues would be a modest but important step after the failure of last year's summit in Copenhagen to win the necessary unanimous approval for anything.

New drafts distributed early Wednesday, while still sidestepping the most critical issues, reinforced a sense of movement and businesslike atmosphere after the acrimonious exchanges a year ago in Denmark's capital, Copenhagen.

That was especially apparent in relations between China and the United States, which were narrowing differences on the key issue of measuring and verifying actions to rein in emissions of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases. An Indian proposal detailing how emissions would be monitored was widely credited with breaking the deadlock.

"China has done a remarkable job in setting a positive and constructive tone, at least in its public statements," although there is still hard bargaining going on in the back rooms, said Barbara Finamore, a China analyst.

The Cancun agreements would create a new climate fund to help poor countries prepare for a changing environment and set up institutions to give them patented green technologies. They would also compensate tropical countries that protect their forests and set guidelines for countries to report their actions to control greenhouse gases and to verify whether they are keeping their voluntary pledges.

Those issues are seen as building blocks to try to revive momentum toward an umbrella deal at next year's conference in South Africa or at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 2012.

Climate talks have been bogged down for years by rifts between rich and poor over sharing the burden of controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, said developing countries must unite to pressure rich countries to accept their historical responsibility for warming the planet. Had poorer countries been the prime culprits of climate change, Correa told delegates in Cancun, the rich countries would have compelled them "including by force, with invasions, to pay a just compensation."

Among the myriad details included in the drafts was a section that would require for the first time emissions reductions for airlines and shipping, which discharge the dirtiest fuels in the transportation business. Precise regulations would be worked out by the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization.

The drafts reflected progress in all areas, but "the texts have not gotten into the crunch issues," said Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged governments to rise to the global-warming challenge.

"I am deeply concerned that our efforts so far have been insufficient," Ban said Tuesday, opening the high-level meeting of environment ministers and more than 20 presidents and prime ministers.

Ban said he was encouraged that governments had nearly met their pledges to raise $30 billion in emergency climate funds for poor countries up to 2012, but said that didn't go far enough.

"We need to make progress on the actual delivery of funds, along with a transparent and robust accountability system," he told reporters.

Nations also had to devise ways to fulfill last year's promise made in the Danish capital to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to fight climate change, he said.

The world's most vulnerable nations warned the conference participants that their situation was dire and immediate.

"The oceans that once sustained us now threaten to swallow us, said President Johnson Toribiong of Palau, a Pacific island nation. "The world must hear our cry for collective action to save us ... and our planet Earth."

Even the modest ambitions the conference set for itself were proving stubborn to realize.

The most difficult was the future of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 pact mandating emission reductions for industrial countries that critics say is too narrow and unfair since it excludes rapidly emerging economies like China and India.

Kyoto set reduction targets for wealthy nations that expire in two years. Developing countries insist that the countries falling under Kyoto accept new post-2012 targets, and that a mechanism be created to oblige the United States, which rejected Kyoto, to commit itself to reduce emissions.

China and other developing countries have pledged to limit the growth of their emissions, and negotiators were struggling to find ways to verify that all sides were not cheating on their commitments.

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