Paris (AFP) Sept 1, 2010
Ministers from nearly four dozen countries meet in Geneva on Thursday and Friday, bidding for progress on climate finance, an issue that has bedevilled the quest to roll back global warming.
The meeting will signal how far negotiations have progressed -- or not -- since the UN climate summit in Copenhagen last December, a near-fiasco overseen by more than 120 heads of state and government.
In the nightmarish thicket of climate talks, finance is an issue that instils dread in many negotiators.
Complex and thorny, it challenges rich countries to pay for historic responsibility for global warming -- and at a time, for many, of deepening austerity.
No decisions are expected in Geneva, but if this relatively small group makes progress, that could dig a spur into the plodding world process, said Gordon Shepherd, head of green group WWF's Global Climate Initiative.
"It's a litmus test," he told AFP by phone.
"But it could be highly influential if they get it right. It could unlock discussions in China and Cancun, it would be a signal to other countries that there is movement."
The 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is scheduled to meet in Tianjin, China in October and then in Cancun, Mexico, at year's end.
Still in the aftershock of Copenhagen, the mood in UNFCCC circles is not about visions and breakthroughs as it was a year ago.
Instead, it is about pragmatism and incremental progress, leading -- if all goes well -- to a deal on major problems in Cancun, followed by a draft treaty a year later that would take effect from the end of 2012.
But getting there means overcoming many hurdles, especially developing countries' suspicions that rich nations have big mouths, deep pockets and short arms.
Under the so-called Copenhagen Accord, rich countries promised around 30 billion dollars in total for the three years from 2010 to 2012.
The Geneva meeting will put flesh on these bones by hearing of a planned registry of commitments, to show transparency and avoid duplication, say sources close to the talks.
It should enable "the operational launch" of the Copenhagen Accord before Cancun, French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Tuesday in Berlin, where he met his British and German counterparts for a tripartite meeting.
But to cement goodwill, donors must pony up new money rather than siphon it off from development aid or existing projects, campaigners say.
The other, sketchier, promise at Copenhagen committed rich countries to "mobilising jointly" 100 billion dollars in longer-term aid annually by 2020.
The Geneva talks will seek to foster a "dialogue" on setting up a fund, exploring how it would work with other financial structures and debating the fund's resources and the role of the climate sector, according to the Swiss environment ministry.
All are potential booby traps.
How much money should come from the public sector and how much from the private?
How should the money be allocated? Should it go to alleviating greenhouse-gas emissions, which cause the problem, or to shoring up defences against climate change?
Also, who should administer the money? Developing countries insist it should be the UNFCCC, and not the World Bank, of which there is deep mistrust.
"I think there is headway on the sources of finance, but there remains the problem of how to get a deal on separate issues and then interweave them with an overall agreement," France's climate ambassador, Brice Lalonde, told AFP.
Environment ministers or stand-ins from around 45 countries are expected to attend, representing the major economies, emerging giants and poorer nations that are representative of their region or state of development.
The meeting is organised by Switzerland, the host, and by Mexico, which presides over the UNFCCC talks this year, a process culminating in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29-December 10.
Fearful of accusations that they are setting up a parallel track, both countries insist that the outcome in Geneva will feed into the UNFCCC and not usurp it.
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