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Climate Victims

DPA news agency (kjb)December 13, 2008

A UN climate conference ended with rich nations under fire for refusing a massive aid boost to protect poor countries against floods, drought and storms blamed on global warming.

Photograph of Earth as seen from the Apollo 8 moon mission
Everyone wants to cut emissions, but 'how' is more difficult to agree onImage: AP

Frustration spilled out although industrialized countries unlocked a $60-million fund to help tackle the impact of climate change, a bid by Europe and others to reach out to developing nations.

The European Union admits that billions are needed for the task, but early-morning talks on starting the process during the Dec. 1-12 conference in Poznan, Poland, led nowhere.

India angrily accused rich nations of "callousness, strategizing and obfuscation," noting that victims of climate change are often the poorest of the poor.

"We're going to have to put much more energy into bridging the growing gap between the two sides," Ghana's envoy told the meeting. "It's the vision gap and that is not a good sign for the future."

Waiting for Obama

The two-week talks brought little progress on the most contentious issues -- notably, cuts in emissions blamed for global warming -- partly because other countries are waiting for Barack Obama to take over as US president on Jan. 20.

Former US Vice President Al Gore
Gore has been an outspoken advocate of climate actionImage: AP

The 189-nation meeting was part of efforts to bring about a deal next December for rich and poor countries to cut output of heat-trapping gases, mainly carbon dioxide emitted when fossil fuels burn.

But the emotional language at the wrap-up session underlined the challenge of stepping up the fight against global warming during an economic slump, a theme many speakers raised throughout the meeting.

Delegates late Friday passed a work plan that confirms the 2009 target date and outlines the path for intense negotiations to be held in Copenhagen next December.

"From now on, it's for real," said Yvo de Boer, the top UN climate official.

Climate fund agreed

Industrialized countries broke the deadlock on the long-dormant climate impact fund by agreeing that poor nations can draw money directly, not go through an international aid bureaucracy.

The fund finances projects such as sea walls and reversing desertification.

With developing nations under pressure to agree to emissions cuts, the aid deal could help bring about a grand bargain on fighting climate change next year.

"It is a very big achievement," Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki said. "This will lay the necessary groundwork for an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen."

At issue is finding a global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which binds rich countries to cuts and expires in 2012. Environmental groups focused on the lack of big-money pledges.

"We urgently needed a decision on increased future funding ... but we didn't get there," said Barry Coates of Oxfam, the international charity.

EU leaders say Europe far ahead

Nomads in the desert in Ethiopia
Climate victims often suffer from poverty as wellImage: dpa - Fotoreport

Also Friday, European Union leaders in Brussels removed an obstacle by agreeing on how each member country should contribute to clean-air targets. The EU-wide goal is to cut emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

While environmentalists said the accord goes too easy on polluting industries and coal-using utilities, EU leaders said it was evidence that the 27-nation bloc leads the world in tackling climate change.

Former US vice president Al Gore fired up UN delegates with an impassioned plea for a global warming accord, saying human survival may be at risk unless rich and poor countries bridge their gaps.

Gore, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for drawing attention to climate change, drew two standing ovations and cheers by delegates.

Applause rippled through the conference room when he evoked Obama's pledges to move beyond President George W. Bush's climate policy and engage Washington "vigorously" in UN negotiations.