US to oppose UN climate ‘reparations’ proposal

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The United States will oppose the United Nations’ efforts to set up a separate funding mechanism to compensate developing countries for “loss and damage” caused by global warming.

Indian newspaper The Hindu obtained a U.S. State Department internal memo to delegates at the U.N.’s climate conference in Warsaw, ordering them to oppose charging rich countries “compensation or reparation” for historic greenhouse gas emissions — essentially making rich countries, like the U.S., pay for emissions that have allegedly raised global temperatures.

“It’s our sense that the longer countries look at issues like compensation and liability, the more they will realize this isn’t productive avenue for the [U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change] to go down,” the State Department document reads.

The U.S. wants to keep any sort of climate reparation scheme part of a non-binding pledge by rich countries to give to poor countries for global warming mitigation. Creating a separate mechanism would put the focus on “blame and liability” and would hurt public support for an international agreement.

“A central issue will be whether loss and damage continues to fall within adaptation or whether it becomes a separate, third pillar (alongside adaption and mitigation), which we believe would lead the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] UNFCCC to focus increasingly on blame and liability, which in turn would be counterproductive from the standpoint of public support for the convention,” the document adds.

Yet U.S. diplomats are still likely to pursue a larger climate agreement by 2015, when the Kyoto Protocol is set to be renegotiated.

“In Warsaw we seek to establish an expectation that parties will submit their commitments by early 2015 so as to finalize an agreement in Paris (in 2015 itself),” the document says. “Specifically we’re advocating an approach under which countries — both developed and developing — will put forth nationally determined mitigation commitments, followed by a transparent consultative process that will give other countries and civil society the opportunity to analyse and comment upon such commitments.”

“The idea is that sunshine will provide an incentive for countries to put forth ambitious commitments in the first instance and, even if not, there will be an opportunity for countries to decide to enhance their commitments before they are finalized,” reads the document.

The Warsaw conference aims to clear the way for a global climate agreement by 2015, but it seems unlikely that rich and poor countries will come to an agreement any time soon.

Australia’s conservative government has refused to send high-ranking officials to the climate talks in Warsaw, and is even considering not participating in international funding to fight global warming.

The Polish government is presiding over a world coal summit that will occur alongside the U.N. climate talks — where diplomats will discuss ways to use less fossil fuels like coal. Poland gets most of its power from coal and the industry supports 600,000 jobs in the country.

Last year, Russia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan pulled out of the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that an emissions reduction agreement is pointless when large developing countries like China and India were not bound by it.

Despite past setbacks, American delegates to the climate talks told The Hindu that the U.S. “is dedicated to achieving an ambitious, effective and workable outcome in the UNFCCC and in Warsaw, and our positions are designed to further this goal. We are engaging with all countries to find solutions that will give momentum to the effort to tackle climate change.”

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