Stand-off continues in climate talks

Stand-off continues in climate talks

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Climate talks in Poland have gone into an extra day as negotiators try to agree the next steps forward for the Paris climate agreement.

Some delegates believe that poor handling of the conference by the Polish government is behind the delays.

Ministers from around 100 countries are gathered in Katowice for the UN talks.

The majority of the details have been settled, but there is an ongoing stand-off over the question of carbon credits and carbon markets to reduce emissions.

Rich nations often reduce their emissions by paying for carbon-cutting projects in other countries. But these programmes are very difficult to police.

Fraud and double accounting have rendered many of them worthless – they are often dubbed hot air schemes.

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At these talks, Brazil has been pushing for a weaker set of rules on carbon markets, despite strong opposition from many other countries.

A suggested compromise would see the discussions on markets kicked down the road to next year.

Ministers and negotiating teams say they are happy to agree to this idea.

But they insist it is up to the Polish presidency of the conference to lead the way. And some negotiators are already unhappy about the way their Polish hosts have allowed the conference to meander.

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On Friday, organisers released a new text intended to form the basis of a deal. The outline decision contains plans for a common rulebook for all countries, with flexibility for poorer nations.

Developing countries seek recognition and compensation for the impact of rising temperatures.

The idea of being legally liable for causing climate change has long been rejected by richer nations, who fear huge bills well into the future.

Prof Myles Allen, from the University of Oxford told BBC News: “Climate change is already affecting many people around the world and the people most affected by climate change are not those who have historically contributed most to the problem.”

But many observers believed that, overall, a degree of progress has been made.

“It was never going to be great, not least because the US is playing a laggard role, but I think we can get a decent outcome, if it’s framed in the right way,” said Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In the final week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres returned to the meeting to try to push it to a successful conclusion.

“To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change,” Mr Guterres said. “It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.”

And the former president of the Maldives and now their lead negotiator, Mohamed Nasheed, said that there would be “hell to pay” if countries did not come together at the summit to prevent temperatures shooting past 1.5C.

Last weekend, scientists and delegates were shocked when the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected to the meeting “welcoming” a recent UN report on keeping global temperature rise to within the 1.5C limit.

The report said the world is now completely off track, heading more towards 3C this century.

Keeping to the preferred goal would need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Prof Allen said: “For countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia, where an enormous chunk of their national income arises from sales of fossil fuels, this is a much deeper problem, and that’s where sticking points are arising.”

What are the delegates trying to decide?

Representatives from 196 states are trying to sort out some very tricky questions about the rulebook of the Paris agreement, which comes into force in 2020.

These are the regulations that will govern the nuts and bolts of how countries cut carbon, provide finance to poorer nations and ensure that everyone is doing what they say they are doing.

It sounds easy but is very technical. At the moment countries often have different definitions and timetables for their carbon cutting actions.

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Poorer countries want some “flexibility” in the rules so that they are not overwhelmed with regulations that they don’t have the capacity to put into practice.

“Flexibility can mean a lot of things and I think some countries are using that word to delay having to implement rules, and others are worried because they don’t have the capacity to do it,” said Jennifer Morgan from Greenpeace.

As well as the rulebook, what else needs to be decided?

There’s a strong push to recognise the science of the IPCC, which earlier this year produced a critical report on how the world would be impacted by temperatures rising by 1.5C this century.

The decision to welcome this report was rejected amid controversy earlier in the conference when Saudi Arabia, the US, Kuwait and Russia wanted to just take note of the report.

When consensus couldn’t be found, the text about the IPCC was dropped – to considerable surprise. This is being seen as something of a win for those four countries.

“There are 196 countries in the UN and 192 counties agree,” said Mohamed Nasheed.

“We are just talking about four that do not agree, and these four are taking us hostage.”

What about cutting carbon faster?

There has been a big push here for countries to up their ambition, to cut carbon deeper and with greater urgency.

Many delegates want to see a rapid increase in ambition before 2020 to keep the chances of staying under 1.5C alive.

Right now, the plans that countries lodged as part of the Paris agreement don’t get anywhere near that, described as “grossly insufficient” by one delegate from a climate vulnerable country.

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Business is also looking for a signal from this meeting about the future.

“Companies are ready to invest and banks are ready to finance,” said Carlos Salle from Spanish energy conglomerate, Iberdrola.

“So we need that greater ambition in the policy to enable business to move further and faster.”

Who’s really in charge of these negotiations?

Poland holds the COP presidency but there has been concern that they lack an overall picture of what should emerge from the meeting.

Most people want to see a strong Paris “rulebook”, a commitment by countries to raise their ambitions and carbon-cutting promises before 2020 and some clarity on how much money will be delivered to poorer countries – as well as when it will arrive.

While some negotiators say the Poles are doing a good job in difficult circumstances, many are critical, saying they are responding to the needs of the rich not the poor.

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