The first UN climate talks of the year in Bangkok this week look to hammer out tough details of a global pact that has offered hope in the fight against global warming.
The six days of talks, which begin Sunday with informal workshops, are being held as the world’s energy problems are in sharp focus amid Japan’s nuclear power crisis and with oil prices hovering near record highs.
Negotiators will be seeking to build on an accord reached in the Mexican resort of Cancun in December last year that infused cautious optimism into the often tortuous United Nations process aimed at tackling climate change.
“The world was at a crossroads in Cancun and took a step forward towards a climate-safe world,” the UN’s climate chief, Christiana Figueres, said ahead of this week’s talks, which formally begin on Tuesday.
“Now governments must move purposefully down the path they have set, and that means maintaining momentum at Bangkok.”
Figueres said a key goal of the talks was to set out a workplan for the year so that countries could arrive in South Africa for the UN’s annual climate summit in November able to make concrete and substantial agreements.
Under the Cancun accord, more than 190 countries called for “urgent action” to keep temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
To do so they pledged to seek “deep cuts” in greenhouse gas emissions, which are mainly created by using fossil fuels for energy and the clearing of carbon-rich rainforests.
In a big step towards rebuilding trust between developed and developing countries, a so-called Green Climate Fund was also established in Cancun.
If all goes to plan, the fund will by 2020 funnel $100 billion to developing countries each year to help them cope with climate change.
But, as with most elements of the Cancun accord, only the over-arching principles have been agreed upon and the tough negotiations on detail will now begin in Bangkok.
On the climate fund issue, one of the most obvious problems is that no-one has yet come up with a way of sourcing the money.
“In Bangkok, negotiators must begin to discuss how to tap innovative sources of funding to meet these critical needs,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy with the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, told AFP.
Other major issues — such as how the funds will be spent, by whom and how they will be accounted for — also need to be determined.
Meanwhile, a long-running debate over whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol is expected to weigh on the UN process in Bangkok and beyond.
The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 committed participating developed countries to curbing their greenhouse gas emissions, but the first commitment period runs out at the end of next year with no replacement yet in sight.
Japan and Russia have firmly opposed extending the protocol because it only covers about 30 percent of global emissions and excludes the world’s two biggest polluters — China and the United States.
China did not have to commit to cutting emissions because of its status as a developing country, while the United States refused to ratify the protocol.
“I think there is a risk of the Kyoto Protocol debate weighing down the rest of the issues and keeping those from progressing,” the director of climate and energy for the World Resources Institute, Jennifer Morgan, told AFP.
Meanwhile, the UN’s Figueres and environmental groups warn even the non-legally binding emissions-cutting commitments made in Cancun remain far too low to keep temperatures from rising more than two degrees.
Two degrees is regarded by scientists as the minimum threshold at which devastating impacts of climate change will kick in, although many warn the level may be as low as 1.5 degrees.
The talks in Bangkok will be followed by other lower-level delegation meetings in Germany, before the annual UN climate summit that will attract ministers and heads of state in Durban, South Africa.