Rich and poor countries spar over climate costs

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WARSAW, Poland -- The U.N. climate talks are bogging down over the old divide between rich and poor nations on the question of who should pay when climate-related disaster strikes, with developing nations staging a symbolic walkout early Wednesday in protest of what they consider inadequate financial support from wealthy countries.

The new catchphrase is "loss and damage," shorthand for the fight over financing for the costs of rising seas, powerful storms and persistent drought. And the issue of whether the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change should be modified to require rich nations to bear the cost of disasters exacerbated by global warming is threatening to torpedo the Warsaw talks, which are meant to prepare a global climate agreement to be signed in 2015.

"Talk to someone who's just lost their livelihood two times in the last five years, lost their cow" for reasons related to climate change, said Harjeet Singh, international coordinator for the advocacy group ActionAid. "There has to be a system in place to help that poor woman."

Early Wednesday, the developed nations' refusal to consider seriously creation of a new mechanism prompted a group of developing countries known as the Group of 77 and China to walk out of the talks, Mr. Singh said, sending "a very strong message that they can't go home from Warsaw without a loss-and-damage mechanism."

Developed nations fear footing the bill for potentially unlimited future liability and agreed only reluctantly to add loss and damage to the Warsaw agenda at the end of last year's climate conference in Doha, Qatar. The issue was given new momentum in recent days by the typhoon that battered the Philippines, although it could be years before scientists are able to conclude whether the giant storm's extreme force can be traced to global warming.

"This is the issue that almost crashed the Doha talks," said Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "And here we are going into the last days of Warsaw, and the small island states and the less-developed countries are seeing signs that they're not going to come out of this with what was agreed last year."

A Western diplomat at the talks said it was an exaggeration to characterize the break in negotiations -- which occurred after 4 a.m., when delegates were exhausted from a long day -- as "a walkout." While the talks did end in discord, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity, everyone agreed to leave together, with expectations that talks would resume later.

They did pick up later. Todd D. Stern, the U.S. climate delegate, noted that the United States and many other developed countries supported the idea of including loss and damage under one of the existing categories for aid under the framework treaty.

Negotiators from developing countries are calling for a new mechanism to be established, because they lack resources to respond to disasters that scientists predict will become more severe and frequent as the atmosphere heats up.


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