CANCUN — Nearly 200 environment ministers and other delegates moved late Friday toward wrapping up an annual UN climate conference with a package of decisions on modest steps, including a fund to help poorer nations cope with global warming.
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In a late-night open session, country after country endorsed the latest
compromise texts to emerge from two-week-long talks that went virtually
nonstop since Thursday, describing them as key to restoring momentum and trust in the UN climate negotiations.
"What we have now is a text that, while not perfect, is certainly a good basis for moving forward," said chief US negotiator Todd Stern. His Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, sounded a similar note and added, "The negotiations in the future will continue to be difficult."
Those two nations, the world's biggest emitters, will be at the center
of those future negotiations, as the Cancun talks, once again, did not
take up proposals for a grand compact mandating deep cuts in global
Underscoring what's at stake in the long-running climate talks, NASA
reported that the January-November 2010 global temperatures were the
warmest in the 131-year record. Its data indicated the year would likely
end as the warmest on record, or tied with 2005 as the warmest.
Bolivia and Cuba criticized the draft accords, raising the possibility
that one or both might block consensus agreement. But it remained to be
seen whether their concerns could be allayed by modifying the text in
further consultations early Saturday, and whether they would act to
prevent adoption of the decisions.
The cross-cutting interests of rich and poor nations, tropical and
temperate, oil producers, desperate islanders and comfortable
continental powers, all combined once more to tie up the annual
negotiating session of environment ministers past its 6 p.m. Friday
After many hours behind closed doors at a sprawling beachside resort
hotel, leaders of the negotiating groups submitted the latest,
slimmed-down versions of the main proposed texts for review.
"We are almost through this process," Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, the conference president, told delegates.
Negotiators earlier reported progress on the key issue of the Green
Climate Fund, which is to aid developing nations obtain clean-energy
technology for cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to
potentially damaging climate change — by shifting agricultural
practices, for example, and building seawalls against the rise of
In the "Copenhagen Accord" that emerged from last year's climate summit
in the Danish capital, richer nations promised $100 billion for such a
fund by 2020.
"There is a consensus that we set up a climate fund," Bangladesh's state
minister for environment, Mohammed Hasan Mahmud, reported Friday.
Details of the fund's oversight were left to post-Cancun negotiations,
and the eventual sources of the financing were not identified.
A UN advisory panel had suggested placing levies of some kind on the
fuel or emissions of airlines and merchant shipping, but such a proposal
was dropped during the negotiations here.
Mahmud lamented that once again a hoped-for overarching pact to slash
global emissions was being deferred at least another year, to the 2011
conference in Durban, South Africa.
"I doubt if the Durban (conference) will deliver the desired level of
results if the negotiations go the way we have been going through here,"
Other issues that faced intense last-minute negotiation:
—Setting up a global structure to make it easier for developing nations
to obtain patented technology for clean energy and climate adaptation.
—Pinning down more elements of a complex, controversial plan to
compensate poorer nations for protecting their climate-friendly forests.
—Taking voluntary pledges of emissions controls made under the
Copenhagen Accord by the US, China and other nations, and "anchoring"
them in a Cancun document, giving them more formal UN status.
—Agreeing on methods for monitoring and verifying that developing nations are fulfilling those voluntary pledges.
UN officials had described these secondary items as "building blocks" to
restore momentum to the UN process after the failure of last year's
climate summit in Copenhagen to produce a long-anticipated global
The Japanese complained that with the rise of China, India, Brazil and
others, the 37 Kyoto industrial nations now account for only 27 percent
of global greenhouse emissions. They want a new, legally binding pact
obligating the US, China and other major emitters.
The upcoming takeover of the US House of Representatives by the
Republicans, many of whom dismiss strong scientific evidence of
human-caused warming, rules out any carbon-capping legislation for at
least two years, however.
While the decades-long talks stumble along, climate change moves ahead.
The UN Environment Program estimates the voluntary Copenhagen pledges,
even if fulfilled, would go only 60 percent of the way toward keeping
the temperature rise below a dangerous 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above
Oceans are rising at twice the rate of the 20th century, researchers
say, and Pacific islanders report they're already losing shoreline and
settlements to encroaching seas.
"It's worrying to imagine what will happen 10 years from now at this
rate," said Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, a spokesman for poorer nations.
"Climate change is a problem that has to be solved. There is no other way."