- Associated Press - Thursday, December 9, 2010

CANCUN, MEXICO (AP) - Delegates from almost 200 nations worked Thursday to clear away a host of disputes and take small steps forward in easing the impacts of climate change, at a conference whose limited goals drew an accusation of “ecocide” from Bolivia’s president.

Once again this year, as they near an end, the annual negotiations under the U.N. climate treaty will not produce an overarching, legally binding deal to slash emissions of global warming gases. From the start, the talks focused instead on secondary areas, including setting up a “green fund” to help poorer countries cope with global warming.

But in that and in a half-dozen other areas, as they approached Friday’s final gavel, world environment ministers and other delegates still haggled over the wording of texts. Environmentalists accused the U.S. of holding the green fund hostage until it is satisfied on other items.

Christiana Figueres, U.N. climate chief, nonetheless struck a hopeful note.

“I see a willingness of parties to move positions. I see active and open exchange in the ministerial consultations,” she said. “But more needs to be done. I call on all sides to redouble their efforts.”

Brazil’s environment minister, Izabella Teixeira, told The Associated Press she was optimistic.

“There are political difficulties but that’s part of the process,” she said.

As for a comprehensive deal, the European Union joined with small island states and Costa Rica in proposing that parties commit to taking up a “legally binding instrument” at next year’s climate conference in Durban, South Africa.

As some 15,000 delegates, environmentalists, business leaders, journalists and others met at this Caribbean resort, carbon dioxide and other global warming gases, byproducts of industry, vehicles and agriculture, continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, barely abated by modest emission reductions undertaken thus far.

Scientists say temperatures could rise by up to 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in this century without deeper cuts, leading to serious damage to coastlines, human health, agriculture and economies in general.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, addressing the full conference, cited families already being deprived of water because of warming and drought, and islanders facing the loss of homes from seas rising from global warming.

If governments move away from strong, mandatory emissions reductions, “then we will be responsible for `ecocide,’ which is equivalent to genocide because this would be an affront to mankind as a whole,” he said.

Reflecting Morales’ passionately delivered address, the Bolivian delegation submitted a proposal _ with no chance of adoption _ for eliminating all greenhouse emissions by industrial nations by 2040.

Last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, was supposed to have produced a global pact under which richer nations, and possibly some poorer ones, would be required to rein in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by industry, vehicles and agriculture.

That agreement would have succeeded the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which mandated modest emissions reductions by developed nations that expire in 2012. Alone in the industrial world, the U.S. rejected Kyoto, complaining that emerging economies, such as China and India, should also have taken on obligations.

The 2009 summit produced instead a “Copenhagen Accord” under which the U.S., China and more than 80 other nations made voluntary pledges to reduce emissions, or at least to limit their growth.

In a sign of the sensitivity of even voluntary pledges, the U.S. and China are squabbling in Cancun over an effort to “anchor” them in a fresh U.N. document. The Chinese want separate listings to maintain a distinction between developing and developed countries, and the Americans want a single integrated list.

The U.S. delegation also seeks detailed provisions for monitoring, reporting and verification, called “MRV,” of how China and other developing nations are fulfilling those voluntary pledges. A leading environmentalist here accused American negotiators of blocking a decision on the green fund in “the kind of brinkmanship that costs lives.”

“The United States continues to hold these important decisions hostage in an effort to get what they want on transparency and MRV. This is unacceptable,” said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.

The green fund would help developing nations buy advanced clean-energy technology to reduce their own emissions, and to adapt to climate change, by building seawalls against rising seas, for example, and upgrading farming practices to compensate for shifting rain patterns.

Developing nations consider inadequate the goal set in the Copenhagen Accord for the fund, of $100 billion a year by 2020, and propose instead that richer countries commit 1.5 percent of their annual gross domestic product _ today roughly $600 billion a year.

Developed nations have resisted such ambitious targets, and also objected to language indicating most of the fund’s money should come from direct government contributions.

A U.N. high-level panel last month said the greatest contributions to long-term climate financing should come from private investment and from “carbon pricing,” either a direct tax broadly on emissions tonnage from power plants and other industrial sources or a system of auctioning off emissions allowances that could be traded among industrial emitters.

Either route would make it economical for enterprises to minimize emissions, and would produce revenue.

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