At Climate Talks, a Struggle Over Aid for Poorer Nations

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DOHA, Qatar -- The United Nations climate conference here has settled into its typical doldrums, with most major questions unresolved as a Friday evening deadline for concluding the talks approaches. One of the thorniest issues is money, which has often bedeviled these affairs.

Since the process for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began about 20 years ago, countries have been split into two often-warring camps: the small number of wealthy nations that provide money to help deal with the effects of global warming, and the much larger group of poorer states that receive it.

At a climate summit meeting in Copenhagen three years ago, the industrialized countries promised to provide $10 billion a year in funds for adapting to climate change over the following three years and $100 billion a year beginning in 2020. The short-term money has more or less been raised and spent, although some nations have quarreled over whether it was new money or simply repurposed foreign aid. A Green Climate Fund has been established to handle the money after 2020.

Left unclear was whether money would flow from 2013 to 2020. That is what negotiators from about 190 countries are fighting about here.

And it is a particularly difficult time for the donor nations to find new money. The United States, which traditionally provides about a quarter of such international finance, is teetering on a fiscal precipice, and few in Washington are thinking about finding several billion dollars to help sub-Saharan Africa or precarious island nations cope with drought and rising seas.

Jonathan Pershing, the State Department's deputy special envoy for climate change, said Wednesday that the United States had "every intention" of finding money for climate adaptation. But he pointedly noted that in the United States, "like most places, the budgeting process is complicated."

Pete Betts, the principal climate negotiator for the European Union, said that Europe would continue to provide climate money. But he, too, noted, "These are tough financial times, and many states are in difficult circumstances, so we won't be in a position to state our target for 2015."

This reticence by richer countries annoys the recipient countries, which see it as avoiding responsibility for decades of uncontrolled emissions that now threaten the health of the planet.

Some, like Brazil, raise legalistic objections that the wealthier countries promised in previous agreements to provide a steady flow of such financing.

André Corrêa do Lago, the chief Brazilian delegate, said, "There is a very different interpretation between developed and developing countries, which is natural because some are giving the money and some are getting the money."

He said that most developing countries had believed that the roughly $10 billion a year in short-term money would be replaced by a gradual increase until 2020. He said he was sympathetic to the budget problems of Europe and the United States, but he also said that unless the donor countries promised to keep up their support, Brazil and other countries would not allow the negotiating process to go forward.

"If at the end you don't, it's a very frustrating exercise," he said.

The most impassioned voices, as usual, are representatives of poor African nations and of low-lying island states threatened with being swamped by rising seas.

"Please, ladies and gentlemen," the delegate from Nauru, a Pacific island nation, pleaded to the assembly, "show me on a map which countries you think are expendable."

Todd D. Stern, the senior American diplomat here, said the United States understood the impatience and frustration of its negotiating partners from the developing world. Addressing the conference on Wednesday, he said that different countries had different abilities to cope with a changing climate and to find the money to adapt. He said that the United States was willing to discuss the concepts of equity and "common but differentiated responsibilities," terms that carry heavy emotional and historical baggage at these gatherings.

In what was read by many here as a shift in tone, Mr. Stern said that such notions would be central to the outcome of a new global climate change treaty that is supposed to be concluded by 2015 and take effect in 2020 under an agreement reached in Durban, South Africa, a year ago.

"The United States would welcome such a discussion, because unless we can find common ground on that principle and the way in which it should apply in the world of the 2020s, we won't succeed in producing a new Durban Platform agreement," Mr. Stern said. "And we have to succeed."

science

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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