20 Nov 2013

Rich-poor divide stalls UN’s Warsaw climate change talks

As Naderev “Yeb” Sano, the Philippines commissioner for climate change, enters day 10 of a hunger strike, a row between rich and poor nations threatens to stall talks in Poland.

Following the devastation brought to the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, Mr Sano began his hunger strike at the UN’s Wasaw climate change summit, saying it would not end until “meaningful progress” was in sight.

However, on Tuesday night Mr Sano showed exasperation at the stalling of one set of discussions – about compensation for countries hit by weather events.

Mr Sano, who received worldwide coverage for his emotional address to the summit in the immediate aftermath of the Typhoon – tweeted that delegates from the G77, as well as China, had walked out of negotiations around “loss and damage”, saying that developed nations were not addressing the needs of the vulnerable.

Loss and damage negotiations centre around who takes responsibility for the destruction caused by climate change.

Though scientists are reluctant to link individual weather events to climate change, the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan is an example of the increased ferocity of storms predicted by climate change experts. The economic cost of Typhoon Haiyan has been estimated to be up to $14bn.

This week, the World Bank said that global economic losses caused by extreme weather, through impacts like rising sea levels and desertification, have risen to nearly $200bn and look set to increase further as climate change worsens.

Poorer countries, represented by organisations such as the G77 and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), argue that developed nations should be legally accountable to provide compensation for the negative economic effects of climate change on developing nations.

“The compensation that those countries require is something that is absolutely fundamental and crucial,” said India’s environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan.

Richer countries are resisting the move, concerned that it could make them liable to pay for a vast range of weather events across the globe.

“We cannot have a system where there will be automatic compensation whenever severe weather events are happening at one place or other around the planet,” the European Union’s climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said.

‘More urgent than ever’

A year ago, in Doha, developing nations won recognition of the plight they face due to climate change, and the phrase “loss and damage from climate change” was enshrined in an international legal document for the first time.

At Warsaw, developing nations are seeking to turn that recognition into legally enshrined, practical mechanisms for compensation.

In a submission to the Warsaw talks, AOSIS said such a mechanism is “more urgent than ever” in the light “low mitigation ambition” in current international climate change pledges, and the “subsequent worsening of climate impacts to which we cannot adapt.”

Mr Sano tweeted on Thursday that text on which negotiations are based “does not address needs of the vulnerable”.

On Tuesday, Mr Sano delivered a petition to the two-week summit with the signatures of 600,000 people, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change. Since then the petition has gained at least another 100,000 signatures.

“The box represents the energy from more than 600,000 people who have expressed solidarity in joining us through a petition, an on-line petition.”

‘Downward spiral’

The reason for his protest was emphasised by a report, released on Wednesday, from Climate Analytics. The report suggested that the world is heading further off track in efforts to tackle climate change.

We are seeing a major risk of a further downward spiral in ambition, a retreat from action, and a re-carbonisation of the energy system led by the use of coal. Bill Hare, Climate Analytics

The Climate Action Tracker said the world is heading for a temperature rise of 3.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, compared with an agreed target by global leaders of 2 degrees Celsius.

Japan’s recent easing of its greenhouse gas emissions target and Australian government policies on emissions were identified as negative impacts on targets.

“We are seeing a major risk of a further downward spiral in ambition, a retreat from action, and a re-carbonisation of the energy system led by the use of coal,” said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics.

The Warsaw climate change talks entered the “high level” stage this week, and are due to conclude on Friday.

The talks aim to set the foundations for a new global climate accord, meant to be agreed in 2015, which will enter into force from 2020.