By Neil Marks in
The United Nations yesterday launched a new round of climate negotiations to find a new pact to make the planet cooler, but the trumpets of last year’s summit for a legally binding agreement have been left behind.
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said that what could be achieved is a “balanced package” of decisions which would be an essential next step on a longer road to a full solution.
An estimated 15,000 negotiators, environmental activists, businessmen and journalists are meeting at a resort complex in the Cancun under stringent security measures, including tightly strapped soldiers at fast food outlets and naval warships offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Figueres, presiding at her first summit of the 193 nations involved in the process, called on the negotiators to invoke the spirit of Ix Chel, the Mayan goddess of the moon and weaving, as they use reason and creativity to look for compromise in reaching decisions.
“Looking at the past months, I am convinced that you can compromise to find your way to a concrete outcome in Cancun. That outcome needs to be both firm and dependable and have a dedicated follow-on process for future work,” she told negotiators.
One of the key outcomes many are looking for is a financing mechanism to preserve rain forests and prepare for a hotter world characterized by extreme weather patterns such as rising seas. The summit also looks to get countries to formalize stated targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as Carbon Dioxide, which is responsible for climate change.
Figueres said that reaching decisions in Cancun is urgent since the poorest and most vulnerable need predictable assistance for a problem they did not cause.
The Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, said that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and said delays in action would only lead to more severe impacts for the poorest regions and communities in the world who have hardly contributed to the problem.
The long-running U.N. talks have seen battles between the world two biggest polluters – United States and China. The U.S. has insisted it will agree to binding pollution limits only if China also accepts legal limitations.
China, now the world’s biggest polluter and also the biggest investor in renewable energy, rejects international limits, saying it still needs to overcome widespread poverty and bears no historic responsibility for the problem.
Eighty-five countries have made specific pledges to reduce emissions or constrain their growth, but those promises amount to far less than required to keep temperatures from rising to potentially dangerous levels.
During two weeks of talks, the conference hopes to conclude agreements that will clear the way to mobilize billions of dollars for developing countries and give them green technology to help them shift from fossil fuels affecting climate change.
Figueres has said that it is the rich, industrialised nations that caused the problem in the first place who should contribute to a fund to help poor countries and to compensate those countries, such as Guyana, which have preserved their forests – forests that, among other things, breathe in the harmful carbon dioxide and other gases harmful to the environment.
She has been careful not to give promises of a spectacular outcome in Cancun, while still not yet wanting to appear a prophet of doom over these tortuous negotiations.
With Cancun looking doomed not to reach a legally binding agreement to replace the existing Kyoto Protocol, some countries want the Kyoto Protocol to be extended beyond its 2012 lifetime.
But there is no agreement on how long the extension could be for. It is one of the vexing political roadblocks Figueres urged compromise on.
The other problem with extending Kyoto, countries like Japan argue, is that the United States is not part of Kyoto and could therefore wriggle out of any commitment to make substantial emissions reduction cuts. The US senate, this year, failed to pass legislation to slow greenhouse gas emissions.
The United Nations says the current levels of commitment would not prevent a temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius, which scientists call the threshold of dangerous climate change such as floods and rising sea levels.
Under the political agreement made in Copenhagen last December, more than 110 countries agreed to limit warming below two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels but they did not say when they would do this.
There is also broad agreement on funding for poor countries to deal with climate change and President Bharrat Jagdeo was part of a group of world leaders selected by the UN to raise financing.
A high level analysis of climate finance submitted to the United Nations has demonstrated the feasibility of putting up by 2020 US$100 billion a year in public funding to fight climate change.
This sets the stage for a finance agreement to come out of this Cancun climate summit.
The funding, agreed to in principle under the Copenhagen Accord from the last UN climate summit, is needed to support action in developing countries to halt the destruction of tropical forests, speed the transition away from high-emission models of development, and to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change impacts.
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