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Extreme weather leaves climate talks cold

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 6 Dec 2012 17:32 GMT
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As negotiators sit in a high-tech conference centre in the fossil fuel-rich desert state of Qatar, making painfully slow progress on measures to tackle climate change, in Southeast Asia, rescue and relief workers are aiding people hit by a powerful typhoon that ravaged the southern Philippines this week, killing several hundred and uprooting tens of thousands.

A few weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy battered the Caribbean and the United States, including New York, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage. Many climate campaigners and developing states had hoped the silver lining would be a more pro-active stance by the United States government at the U.N. climate talks here in Doha.

But so far, extreme weather doesn't seem to be making a jot of difference.

"We did have a glimmer of hope - we were thinking that after Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. will move, we will see some kind of sensitivity from the U.S., in its behaviour, in the way it approaches issues," said Harjeet Singh of ActionAid. He lamented the lack of "seriousness in these negotiations".

Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, said he had expected a "greater sense of solidarity and vision" from U.S. President Barack Obama, but said it seems U.S. negotiators "forgot to pack their consciences and political will".

At the Durban climate talks last year, rich nations got what they wanted - agreement to negotiate a new climate deal that will bind all nations to reduce emissions, rather than just developed countries, ActionAid's Singh said.

"So why are you not moving?" he asked. "The science has told us what needs to be done and you are still not moving."

Naderev Yeb Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines, made an impassioned plea for officials in Doha to act in the best interests of the world's 7 billion people, not "based on what our political masters tell us".

"As we speak the death toll (from Typhoon Bopha) is rising, there is widespread devastation, communication lines are down, power lines are down and hundreds are missing, hundreds are buried behind mud and debris. This is a sobering situation for the delegation as we try to make a difference in these negotiations," he told journalists.

He emphasised how his country is making an effort to protect its people from the adverse impacts of climate change, but needs more support to step up that work.

"Hundreds of thousands of people are in evacuation centres right now, and we refuse to make that a way of life," he added.

Making similar remarks to the main conference, where he appealed for the world "to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want", he broke down at one point.


His words echo what many ministers from developing states in Africa, Asia and Latin America have told the annual climate change conference - that their people are suffering from increasingly frequent and intense droughts, floods, storms, heat waves and rising seas, and require more funding and technology to protect themselves, adapt, and develop in a clean way.

Recent studies, including from the World Bank, have documented growing evidence of the detrimental impacts of climate change on the ground and pointed to the urgency of cutting emissions further and faster to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, which is considered by scientists as the maximum for avoiding dangerous consequences.

Yet negotiators from some developed countries in Doha are refusing to set a 2015 mid-term goal for climate finance and establish an international mechanism to address loss and damage caused by climate change - key demands of poorer nations. The United States, in particular, is unwilling to budge, observers say.

"We are at a tipping point in the talks," Liz Gallagher of policy consultancy E3G told reporters. "No one is leading the process... The shape of a deal that is emerging lacks political urgency and dynamism." The conference risks a "zombie outcome", she warned.

ActionAid, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF issued an “emergency call” on Thursday saying the Doha talks are on the brink of disaster because industrialised countries have spent the last two weeks "removing even the bare minimum of what would have been required to have an agreement that actually meets the acid test of climate change".

They say a deal must include scaled-up public climate finance from 2013, deep emissions cuts and a mechanism to address loss and damage.

So far it looks as though the talks will take only partial steps towards delivering these elements, at best, unless a huge breakthrough occurs in the next day or two.

Without that, there will remain a huge dissonance between what is happening in the real world and the political response.

Earlier this week, Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, warned that the climate talks "are actually not delivering a climate-safer future".

"Despite all the negotiations, despite all the work and activism in the U.N. system, you are actually moving in the wrong direction, you are disregarding the science, you are disregarding the opportunities, and you are disregarding the responsibility to act collectively," he said.







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