Nations still worlds apart at crunch UN climate summit

AFP Katowice, Poland Dec 14, 2018, 06.15 PM(IST)

Participants take part in plenary session during COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 13, 2018.  Photograph:( Reuters )

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Delegates from nearly 200 nations were still far apart on several crunch issues -- from how the future fight against climate change is funded, to the levels of help given to countries already experiencing its effects. 

Nations at UN climate talks were haggling Friday over the world's plan to avert disaster as host Poland dumped a draft decision text on delegates just hours before the summit was due to end.  

Negotiators told AFP that delegates from nearly 200 nations were still far apart on several crunch issues -- from how the future fight against climate change is funded, to the levels of help given to countries already experiencing its effects. 

Ministers at the COP24 talks must agree on a common rulebook to make good on promises made by countries in the landmark 2015 Paris accord, which vowed to limit global temperature rises to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). 

But with the starkest warnings yet from scientists highlighting the need to drastically slash fossil fuel emissions within the coming decades in order to meet the safer cap of 1.5C warming, delegates were urged to act now or condemn at-risk nations to disaster.

One negotiator told AFP there were "several areas of concern" surrounding the draft decision text released overnight by Poland. 

A major sticking point remains finance. Developing nations say they cannot afford to make their economies greener without reliable, transparent funding from richer nations. 

'Cruel joke'

In the draft text there was no resolution on the key issue of finance, and developed nations -- responsible for the lion's share of historic greenhouse gas emissions -- were accused of seeking to shirk funding promises made in Paris. 

"We are putting pressure on the (global) north to pay the cost," Costa Rica's environment minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez told reporters.

Harjeet Singh, global climate lead at ActionAid, said rich countries were "playing a cruel joke" on developing nations.

As it stands, "there is no obligation on their part on finance, both in terms of how much money they are going to provide and how to count that money," he said. 

The draft text gave short shrift to another red-line issue for poor countries exposed to the ravages brought on by global warming: so-called "loss and damage".

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions and helping nations prepare for a climate-addled future have long been the twin pillars of the UN climate forum. 
But more recently, a third plank of the regime was added to help nations cope with deadly heatwaves, drought and floods -- amplified by climate change -- happening today.

"It is extremely concerning that loss and damage has been relegated to a footnote in the current draft," Mark Lutes, delegation lead for WWF.

'Climate emergency'

Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate negotiator, said his country -- the world's largest carbon emitter -- "will do what we can" to get a deal in Katowice.

"We may get an outcome that everyone may not be entirely satisfied with, but can accept," he told reporters. 

The expectation is that talks will go deep into overtime, with a number of key issues still unresolved.  

One potential breakthrough came in the form of tentative consensus over how to treat the latest UN scientific report. 

Most nations wanted the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- which highlighted the need for greenhouse gas emissions to be slashed to nearly half by 2030 in order to hit the 1.5C target -- to form a key part of future planning.

But the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected, leading to watered-down language in the draft decision.

Activists lamented the inability of the UN climate forum to decisively address what they describe as a "climate emergency." 

"People are no longer waiting for some global consensus," said Jennifer Morgan, International Executive Director for Greenpeace.

"They are suing their governments, they are suing the carbon major companies, they are blocking roads and bridges, they are organising school strikes -- and this is only the beginning."

Dozens of school children took part in a strike inside the COP24 complex called by climate campaigning schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, who has been issuing pleas for action at the UN summit.

"For two weeks, Greta has been alone pushing leaders to deliver a climate deal. Today we answer her call and bring the call of young people everywhere to our leaders," said 15-year-old schoolgirl Malgorzata Czachowska.  

"The time for talk is over, the time for action is now."