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World | National

Climate talks in trouble as green groups walk out

The Philippines’ lead negotiator Yeb Sano (C) of the Climate Change Commission is surrounded by other climate activists at the UN-led COP19 climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, November 2013. (Photo by: Imelda Abano,
The online news portal of TV5

WARSAW - Exasperated green groups walked out of faltering UN climate talks in Warsaw on Thursday as rich and poor nations bickered about who must do what to curb planet warming.

Negotiators were at loggerheads on the penultimate day of talks over divvying up responsibility for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and scaling up aid to poor states vulnerable to climate change effects.

In a dramatic flourish, six major environment and development groups walked out, saying the annual round of talks had delivered little more than hot air since opening on November 11.

"The Warsaw climate conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing," said a statement announcing the groups' decision to "voluntarily withdraw" as a sign of “frustration and disappointment” at rich countries for blocking the progress of the climate negotiations.

The signatories are Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam, ActionAid, the International Trade Union Confederation and Friends of the Earth. They were joined by other environment and civil society groups such as Oxfam, Aksyon Klima and Peoples’ Movement on Climate Change (Philippines).

They claimed more than 800 UN-accredited observers were part of the mass protest.

“The climate talks started with a very grim reminder that we are running out of time with the tragedy that we saw in the Philippines recently,” Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International told InterAksyon, referring to the destruction brought by super typhoon Yolanda (international code name: Haiyan).

“What we are seeing here is absolutely lack of urgency. Rich countries are slowing down progress. This is a wake-up call demonstration to our leaders who are here in Warsaw.”

Delegates from more than 190 poor and rich countries are gathered in Warsaw for the latest round of climate negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where they were expected to tackle critical issues such as targets on emissions reduction, funding for adaptation and mitigation through the Green Climate Fund, and a “loss and damage” mechanism or creating strategies to address losses and damage caused by long-term climate impacts.

"Governments here have delivered a slap in the face to those suffering as a result of dangerous climate change," said Naidoo.

“If we are to get a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement by 2015, rich countries need to act with much greater urgency, specificity, with targets with climate funding. None of these things are moving forward at a pace that gives us comfort,” Naidoo added.

“We are walking out in frustration and disappointment. Rich countries here in Poland have done nothing to cut emissions or provide real finance to tackle climate change. We also walk out in solidarity, with those communities and countries who stand to lose so much from climate change, and for whom these talks have done so little. Enough is enough,” Susann Scherbarth from the Friends of the Earth said in a statement.

Philippines’ appeal for climate action

At the opening of the climate talks last week, Philippines lead negotiator Yeb Sano of the Climate Change Commission announced his “voluntary fasting” until he sees progress in the climate talks in Warsaw. With the walkout of environmental and civil society groups who expressed solidarity with his move, Sano said he shares his “frustration” over the pace of climate negotiations.

The Philippines’ head of the delegation and Climate Change Commission Secretary Lucille Sering said she shares the aim of developing countries to see “clear commitment of rich countries to reach an agreement on critical issues.”

 “We will continue to press on thinking of the plight of our countrymen. We tried to be constructive in this process and we have to be in solidarity to development. We are disheartened by the progress of the talks moving towards its last day especially on the weak outcomes on ‘loss and damage’ and climate finance,” Sering told InterAksyon.

Sering said the country has been pushing for effective mitigation and adaptation, enhanced flows of financing and technology transfer, ‘loss and damage’ mechanism and ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Gerry Arances, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, said, “We have already witnessed with huge dismay, frustration and increasing outrage the failure of the international climate negotiations year after year to make progress on decisive measures to address climate change and its impacts”.

He added that the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, where more than 4,000 people had died and millions had been affected, should serve as a “push for all countries to urgently act on how to address climate change.”

‘Lack of political will’

Climate activists are blaming rich countries particularly Australia, Japan, Canada and Poland for “lacking the political will” to address climate change.

The groups pointed the finger at Poland for its "endorsement" of a global coal summit held in the same city and at the same time as the climate talks. They also singled out Japan for slashing its carbon emissions goal, and Australia for its decision to scrap a carbon tax on high emitters.

Non-governmental organizations attended the talks as observers and advisors. Decision-making is reserved for UN member states.

On Wednesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon had urged nations to take "much bolder" action to stave off an existential peril for the Earth.

Prior to his speech, delegates from 133 countries composed of the so-called G77+China (which includes the Philippines) walked out of the negotiations on “Loss and Damage” with rich countries saying it should be dealt with only after 2015.

Gathering more than 190 nations, the talks are meant to pave the way to a pact by the end of 2015 to limit warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels by taming carbon gases emitted by burning coal, oil and gas.

On current emissions trends, scientists warn the Earth could face warming of 4.0 C or higher -- a recipe for catastrophic storms, droughts, floods and a land-gobbling sea-level rise.

Roadmap for 2015?

Delegates said there have been few advances in crafting a roadmap for arriving at a historic climate deal in Paris, now only two years away.

"There are still things that are very important to us where we do not see enough progress, for instance a clear timeline, and key elements of the 2015 agreement," European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said after another round of all-night talks.

"We are not moving forward in our discussions."

Developing countries want wealthy nations to shoulder a bigger share of emissions cuts to make up for a long history of fossil-fuel combustion.

The West, however, insists that emerging economies must do their fair share.

It argues that tomorrow's warming problem will mainly come from today's developing giants, which are voraciously burning indigenous reserves of coal.

China is now the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), with India in fourth place after the United States and Europe.

Developing giant Brazil's Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado said Thursday the new deal may have "different kinds of obligations for different countries or different groups of countries".

China, for its part, stressed that inequalities between industrialized and developing nations "will persist after 2020".

But US climate envoy Todd Stern said a deal with obligations distinguishing between groups on the basis of an outdated rich-poor country divide "will not work".

Work on a 2015 deal would only be successful "if we leave ideology at the door", said Stern.

Another quarrel is over money.

Developing nations are challenging wealthy countries to show how they intend to honor a 2009 pledge to muster up to $100 billion (74 billion euros) by 2020, up from $10 billion a year from 2010 to 2012.

Still struggling with an economic crisis, however, the developed world is wary of unveiling a detailed plan at this stage, or pledging any new short-term figures.

The money crunch also lies at the heart of another issue bedeviling the talks: demands by developing countries for a mechanism to help them deal with future losses from climate impacts they say are too late to avoid.

Rich nations fear this amounts to signing a blank cheque for never-ending liability.

Sharing common goals

Hours after the environmental groups’ walkout, Conference of Parties (COP 19) president Marcin Korolec issued a statement saying that the climate conference and NGOs “share common goals” of ensuring “effective climate protection”.

"I regret the fact that some NGOs decided to leave the COP19 climate conference to express their disapproval towards the extending negotiations,” Korolec stated. “Activities of non-governmental organizations are often thought to draw attention towards the issues perceived by them as important. This is how I would understand this decision.”

Korolec, acknowledged that NGO observers have always mobilized negotiators to greater efforts and ambitions.
“Today in the morning after all-night negotiations, we have achieved considerable progress on climate finance. The talks about the shape of a new global agreement were also held throughout the night. I am convinced that we are getting closer and closer to the final success,” Korolec added. “I hope that the voice of NGOs will remain present in the discussion on how to solve the most important problems of our planet."