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Maldivian island
Island states like Maldives are most at riskImage: picture-alliance / Godong

Climate talks

August 14, 2009

Informal meetings held in the former German capital were meant to give nations a chance to iron out a few of their differences in the run-up to Copenhagen in December. But that's not what happened.

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"If we continue at this rate we are not going to make it," said a frustrated Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), following the Bonn conference.

He warned participants that just 15 days of negotiations remain before a Copenhagen climate conference, where the international community is due to agree on a climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Negotiators will be meeting in Bangkok at the end of September and in Barcelona in November.

"It is clear that there is quite a significant uphill battle if we are going to get there," said Jonathan Pershing, head of the US delegation. But he said there were some signs of movement. "You absolutely can get there," he said.

Hard numbers

A number of other representatives, though, said that the best that can now be expected from the December meeting in Copenhagen was an "interim agreement" that would set out a basic framework for a post-Kyoto accord, with hard numbers to be filled over the course of 2010.

Disagreements between rich and developing countries continue to hold up progress. Delegates could not agree on how much rich nations should have to cut their emissions before 2020, nor on whether poor countries should have to meet binding climate change targets.

The deepest disagreements, however, were about money.

The UN has estimated that, by 2020, the cost of mitigating and adapting to climate change will rise to $200 billion (140 billion euros) per year. Who pays for such measures, and when, is proving to be a sticking point.

UN Climate head Yvo de Boer
Yvo de Boer left the conference discouragedImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

On Friday, a bloc of the poor countries and small island states said rich nations should set aside one percent of GDP, some $400 billion annually, to help poor countries cope. And top UN climate official de Boer has called for a first pledge in Copenhagen of $10 billion, to help poor nations map out "solid strategies to limit the growth of their emissions." Neither measure was adopted.

Fundamental changes

Environmental groups were not impressed by the lack of agreement - but not surprised either.

"The climate change discussion is about fundamentally changing the way we live our lives. It's about fundamentally changing the way governments do business and that doesn't come easy," said Kim Carstensen of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

In discussions like those in Bonn, he said, delegates "talk about huge issues - like how much money is going to be transferred from the north to the south, about how we are going to deal with technology development and technology sharing in the world, how we're going to deal with issues of managing the natural forces and climate and weather extremes around us."

Each of those issues has caused years of discussion, said Carstensen, and taking them all into one regime is bound to be difficult, which means that delegates will have their work cut out for them if they are to find success in Copenhagen.

mrh/Reuters/AFP
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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