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'We will not survive': Nations still worlds apart at crunch climate change summit

Delegates have been urged to act now or condemn at-risk nations to disaster.

Andrzej Duda, President of Poland, speaking to the media during the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference.
Andrzej Duda, President of Poland, speaking to the media during the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference.
Image: Omar Marques/Zuma Press/PA Images

NATIONS AT UN climate talks were haggling today 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 states are still far apart on several crunch issues — from how nations report reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, to the levels of help given to countries already hurting from climate change.

Ministers at the COP24 talks must agree on a common rule book to make good on promises they made in the landmark 2015 Paris accord, which vowed to limit global temperature rises to “well below” two degrees Celsius.

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.

As negotiations entered the final stretch, several key areas of dispute emerged, often with different alignments of developed and developing nations straddling each divide.

‘Cruel joke’ 

In the draft text there was no resolution on how the climate fight will be financed, 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.

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.

One veteran observer told AFP that the US, despite President Donald Trump’s intention to withdraw from Paris, was seeking to water down “differentiation”, a bedrock principle of the underlying UN climate Convention.

Washington wants countries to contribute to the climate fight based on their current emissions levels, rather than their historic pollution, meaning the US would be less bound to help developing nations green their economies.

“The US has let certain things slide in order to make sure they have parity,” the observer said.

Loss and damage 

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.

Another hot-button issue centres on how to avoid the double-counting of reductions in carbon pollution.

That can occur when one country takes actions to curb emissions -– reforestation, for example –- in another country and then both nations claim the credit as part of their pledges under the Paris Agreement

“If you have buyers and sellers in a carbon trading scheme, you want to be sure that those emissions reductions don’t get counted twice,” David Waskow, Director of the World Resources Institute’s Climate Change Initiative, said.

The European Union has been particularly aggressive in pushing for strict rules on “environmental integrity”.

‘We will die’ 

The expectation is that talks will go deep into overtime with host Poland likely to publish an updated text in the early hours of Saturday.

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.

“Now that we are in the same boat we need to be able to have a rule book that sticks with the 1.5C there is no discussion, no possibility to question or have doubts on the 1.5C,” Costa Rica’s Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez said.

As well as the IPCC issue, nations are also under pressure to up their ambition in their contributions to the climate fight ahead of a 2020 stocktake.

“If we don’t do that, we will not survive,” former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed said. “We would die. I’m sure it wouldn’t be an appropriate outcome for anyone.”

© AFP 2018 

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