Next Climate Summit May Turn on Rich Nations' Approach to Poor Ones

Yvo de Boer underscored the importance of money.
Yvo de Boer underscored the importance of money. (Adam Berry - Bloomberg News)
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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008

POZNAN, Poland, Dec. 13 -- The acrimonious end to the United Nations talks here early Saturday morning highlights the challenge rich and poor countries will face as they seek a global climate pact in the coming year, as well as a possible path toward compromise.

Much of the debate this year focused on how to structure the year-old adaptation fund, which devotes a small portion of the money industrial nations pay on clean-energy projects in developing nations to helping those same countries cope with global warming.

Poor nations had hoped to strike a deal in which some of the money raised by auctioning international pollution allowances in the next few years would go toward this effort, but industrialized countries resisted. While this sparked a slew of impassioned speeches in the closing hours of the two-week conference, it also underscored that a future global warming agreement will depend in large part on the extent to which developed nations address the needs of vulnerable countries and emerging nations that have become a growing source of the greenhouse gases responsible for human-induced climate change.

David Waskow, climate change program director for Oxfam America, said delegates hoping to finalize an agreement next December in Copenhagen recognize that they need a better way to fund poor nations' adaptation needs, which could run between $50 billion and $80 billion a year, according to independent and U.N. estimates. The current fund -- which became operational after negotiators reached an accord this week -- collects between $200 million and $300 million annually from a 2 percent levy on the clean development mechanism, which allows nations to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments by reducing emissions in developing countries.

"The current funding is a small fraction of the progress that is needed to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change and to ensure that we can reach an ambitious climate change agreement," Waskow said. "It became clear at the end of the talks here that hard-hit countries won't agree to a deal in Copenhagen next year unless these concerns are addressed in a serious way."

After negotiators decided to put off this question until next year, half a dozen delegates expressed their disappointment publicly. Indian delegate Prodipto Ghosh said that out of the 12 annual U.N. climate meetings he had attended, "this is one of the saddest moments in all these years."

Christiana Figueres Olsen, Costa Rica's special adviser for climate change, said: "Given the content of this issue, we should have been discussing in one of the most vulnerable countries, where we would have been faced with the reality of adaptation every day. . . . Adaptation, Mr. President, is the human tragedy of climate change."

In a news conference afterward, Yvo de Boer -- executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which hosted the talks -- said "this conference caused some bitterness" because of its failure to resolve the adaptation question.

"Let's be honest, doing a deal in Copenhagen is to an important extent about engaging developing countries. And an important part of engaging developing countries is mobilizing financial resources," de Boer said. Rich countries, he said, held off making a commitment because they see it "as part of a financial package to deliver a much broader agreement."

Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, said the fact that developing countries were putting concrete emissions-reduction plans on the table and emphasizing what they need to cope with global warming shows how the impetus for action has become stronger in the past year.

"The tenor has changed," Helme said, noting that officials from these countries are more committed to act now that they have witnessed what is at stake for their citizens. "We've really seen a shift."

White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairman James L. Connaughton, one of the members of the U.S. delegation to Poznan, said the United States has already funded infrastructure and other projects in developing countries that can address climatic effects. "All of these steps are going to help with adaptation," he said.

De Boer noted that adaptation funding was "part of the challenge in Copenhagen, not the challenge in Copenhagen," since a final deal needs to include firm emissions commitments from industrial countries and outline what major emerging economies will do to curb their own carbon outputs. In meetings with foreign ministers here, Connaughton cautioned that it will be difficult for the United States to reach President-elect Barack Obama's target of bringing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

In an interview Friday, Connaughton said he based that assessment on the political climate in Congress as well as the lengthy analysis the administration conducted in recent years. "I don't see that," he said of Obama's projections. "It does not appear supportable."

But most participants here predicted an Obama administration would be able to deliver on its promises, which in turn could help forge a global agreement. "Obviously, we are all hoping that there will be greater support for the post-Kyoto framework for the world" from Obama, said Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai.

Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs and head of the U.S. delegation, said this month's talks laid the groundwork for such a global pact.

"What's being advanced here is going to be important for the United States," she said in an interview. "We want the United States to be part of a new international agreement."

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