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Obama’s Own Goal: Squabble Over $100 Billion Promise Stalls Global Warming Deal

Stefan Nicola, Bloomberg

A dispute about how to link greenhouse-gas emissions cuts to a promise from the wealthiest nations for $100 billion a year in climate aid emerged as a major stumbling block at UN talks on global warming.

After a week of discussions that ended today in Bonn, envoys from some 190 nations were deadlocked about the formula countries will use to set out their commitments on reducing fossil-fuel pollution in time for the deal they plan to sign in Paris in 2015.

That means higher-level officials will have to deal with the issue when they meet in Peru in December. The exact way in which those pledges are put on the table is the cornerstone of the pact that the United Nations is promoting as a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, whose limits on emissions in richer countries lapse in 2020. Delegates also failed to make progress on the actual draft text of a future climate treaty.

“The talks here can’t fairly be called negotiations,” Meena Raman, who tracks the UN negotiations for Malaysian nonprofit group Third World Network, said today in an e-mailed statement. “I can’t see how they’ll pull the elements together if they continue like this.”

At the heart of the matter is a promise that U.S. President Barack Obama, the European Union and other industrial nations made in 2009 to raise the value of aid for climate-related projects to $100 billion a year by the end of this decade. Developing countries would get the money in exchange for cutting emissions — and opening their industries to scrutiny.

‘Collective Signal’

The pledges being devised are for the period after 2020, and developing countries want industrialized nations to indicate how much climate aid they’ll incorporate into the promises. At the same time, they’re seeking more clarity on how aid will ramp up to $100 billion in 2020.

“There has to be some collective signal from the developed countries that the direction of climate finance will be upwards and not fall off a cliff,” said Alden Meyer, a policy specialist at the Union of Concerned Scientists who has followed the talks for two decades. “You need more clarity on post-2020 finance if you want to get an agreement in Paris.”

The head of the EU delegation, Elina Bardram, sought to provide reassurance that the money would flow without agreeing that the pledge should be codified into the text of pledges for the Paris deal.

“The EU sees adaptation — financing and other means of implementation — as an absolute core part of the agreement,” Bardram said last night in Bonn. Yet the process, she said, “doesn’t really lend itself to having a specific focus on adaptation or finance issues.”

Point of Friction

The promise made five years ago was one of the few tangible outcomes from a disastrous meeting in Copenhagen where envoys failed to agree on how to take forward the fight against global warming. Instead, they took note of a deal Obama and a handful of richer nations made that included the aid pledge.

Since then, the talks got back on track with a decision to work toward a deal in Paris in 2015. How the aid pledge links to the next agreement has remained a key point of friction.

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