World divided on new plan to combat global warming

SINGAPORE, (Reuters) – A new plan to curb global  warming risks becoming a battleground between rich and poor  nations and could struggle to get off the ground as negotiators  battle over the fate of the ailing Kyoto climate pact.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol covers only emissions from rich  nations that produce less than a third of mankind’s carbon  pollution and its first phase is due to expire end-2012. Poorer  nations want it extended, while many rich countries say a  broader pact is needed to include all big polluters.

Australia and Norway have proposed negotiations on a new  agreement, but say it is unrealistic to expect that to be ready  by 2013. They have set a target date two years later, in 2015.

“This is the only way ahead. There is no other way than  failure,” said a senior climate negotiator from a developed  country on the Australia-Norway proposal, who declined to be  named because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Developing nations insist Kyoto be extended to commit rich  countries to tougher carbon cuts and fiercely resist any  attempts to side-line the world’s main climate pact, meaning the  Australia-Norway plan faces a tough time .

Failure to agree on a new climate deal could lead to nations  committing only to voluntary steps that are unlikely to put the  brakes on climate change, risking more extreme droughts, floods,  storms and crop failures. It would also weaken efforts to put in  place tough policies to promote cleaner fuels and green energy.  The proposal calls on major economies to quickly strengthen  steps to curb emissions, agree on a way to standardise actions  and a system to compare and verify what everyone else is doing.     Marathon U.N.-led climate talks failed to meet a 2009  deadline to agree a new pact to start in 2013 and a major  conference in Durban, South Africa, in two months is under  pressure to launch a process to negotiate a new treaty.

 WILD WEATHER   

As negotiators haggle, data show the world is heating up, as  emissions, particularly from big developing nations, keep  growing from burning more coal, oil and gas.

Scientists say floods similar to those that left millions  homeless in Pakistan last year and ravaged parts of Australia,  could become more common, along with more intense Atlantic  hurricanes and wildfires. The United States has already tied its yearly record for  billion-dollar weather disasters and the cumulative tab from  floods, tornadoes and heat waves this year has hit $35 billion,  the National Weather Service said in mid-August.         That doesn’t include billions in losses and disaster relief  from Hurricane Irene , which struck in late August.

All this throws the spotlight on emissions curbs by the  world’s major economies and the fact that these are not enough.  When Kyoto was agreed, emissions from poorer nations were much  smaller. Now they dwarf those of rich countries.

At the least, the talks need to restore faith that countries  can do more to fight global warming.

“We need to push away from this annual cycle of what are we  going to achieve into a more realistic timeline of when can we  achieve a new agreement. My sense is that none of the  negotiators disagree with that. It’s obvious,” said the senior  delegate.  The Australia-Norway proposal will be a focus of U.N.-led  climate talks in Panama this week, the last round before the  conference in Durban.

 “RECIPE FOR INACTION”

The EU said it broadly supported the submission.

“It tries to take forward the international climate  negotiations into the next years, seeing how we can build a  broader climate regime,” Artur Runge-Metzger, the EU’s chief  climate negotiator, told Reuters. “We think that this seems to  be a workable timeline.”

He said it was crucial the Durban meeting agrees on  building a new climate framework for all countries, referring  particularly to the United States and major developing  economies.

China produces about a quarter of mankind’s greenhouse gas  pollution and is the top global emitter. While the government is  taking steps such as promoting energy efficiency and vehicle  fuel standards, these are voluntary.

The proposal will prove divisive for poorer countries.

None more so than nations most vulnerable to climate change,  such as low-lying islands that face ever rising sea levels,  flooding and shrinking fresh water supplies. They want faster  action by big polluters and feel Kyoto is the way to go.

“It basically delays real action to address climate change  and vulnerable countries aren’t going to like it,” said Ian Fry,  lead climate negotiator for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu,  told Reuters, adding: “It’s a gift to the United States.”

India, the world’s third largest carbon polluter, has also  dug in its heels over the proposal.

“Such a plan takes the focus away from Kyoto and redraws  negotiating paradigms. Why should the developing countries  agree?” said an Indian official with knowledge of the global  negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The United States, the world’s second-biggest polluter,  never ratified Kyoto, saying the pact is flawed because it  doesn’t commit big developing economies to meet legally binding  emissions curbs.

The proposal could however benefit investors in cleaner  power generation, carbon-offset projects and greener buildings. “Anything which moves the world towards more unified action  increases the confidence level of investors,” said Geoff Rousel,  global head of commodities, carbon and energy for Westpac  Institutional Bank in Sydney.

“Therefore, if this plan was to be accepted, you’d be more  likely to see more confidence in capital expenditure in energy  efficiency and emissions abatement,” he said.

The United States remains cautious. “A legal agreement has to apply with equal legal force to  at least the major developing countries so that means China,  India, Brazil and so forth,” said chief U.S. climate envoy Todd  Stern in recent remarks to the media. And that meant no “escape  hatches” or conditions on meeting those commitments, he said.

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