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CLIMATE SCIENCE
Progress seen on climate talks but disputes linger

Changing climate alters age-old habits of Mexico community
Tabi, Mexico (AFP) Dec 5, 2010 - Members of the Mayan community of Tabi, around 200 (120 miles) kilometers southwest of Cancun on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, say changes in the weather are forcing them to change their lives. The dusty streets and modest homes of the community of some 400 people do not suggest wealth, but the land's bounty of corn, squash, beans and fruit made it a perfect place to raise a family. That has changed since Eunice Be Chuc moved here, 28 years ago. These days rain is increasingly unpredictable in a region where the wet season has come like clockwork since the times of the ancient Maya. Now drought, floods and hurricanes alternate -- extreme conditions that devastate crops. "Even if you plant crops, the soil only gets drier with all the sun and if there is no water, how do we water it? So even if we are doing our part, if the soil doesn't produce, what else can we do?" Be Chuc told AFP, looking across a parched field.

Corn is to Mexico what rice and bread are to much of the rest of the world. The tortilla is a staple, and without it, many would go hungry, in a country where around 40 percent live in poverty. But agricultural officials say climate change and poor farming practices have cut Mexico's corn yields up to 60 percent over the past 15 years. Last year, Mexico suffered the worst drought in 60 years; this year it saw record flooding in parts of the country. "When it doesn't rain, the entire crop is lost. When it does rain, the entire crop grows," said community leader and farmer Saulo Chuc Moo. Locals are beginning to adapt in order to survive -- turning away from old slash and burn techniques that left fields barren after just a few seasons. Now they clear rocks and other debris from the soil and mix in organic fertilizer to create sustainable fields. Anti-poverty campaigners say rural communities around the world are feeling the same strain -- and being forced to adapt.

"There are only a few issues that have been consistently increasing in awareness for the past few years and one of them is climate change," said Antonio Hill, from Oxfam. "And among others, part of the reason is ... the fact that around the world people are convinced that something is changing." Farmers in Tabi struggle to keep up with the pace of that change, seeking alternatives to feed their families, such as apiculture and selling firewood, while women are doing crafts to earn extra money. They receive some government help to finance new agriculture techniques, but last year's severe droughts, which destroyed their harvests, led to big protests in the region, and calls for more aid. Those still relying exclusively on agriculture to make a living are becoming poorer, and some even fear agriculture will disappear completely. "Many people are leaving to find other places to work, many go to the hotel zone, where they become slaves for others," said local resident Eunice Be Chuc, referring to the massive tourist developments along the coast, such as Cancun. As negotiators from more than 190 countries arrived at the Caribbean resort Sunday for a final week of UN-backed climate talks, Tabi residents looked to global leaders to bring help to keep their crops growing.
by Staff Writers
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 5, 2010
Guarded hope at UN climate talks
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 5, 2010 - Negotiators on climate change were raising their hopes Sunday after signs of modest progress in Mexico, but a dispute over the future of the Kyoto Protocol threatened to derail momentum.

The 194-nation talks at the Caribbean resort city of Cancun were trying to finalize a general statement on the world's long-term action against climate change as envoys arrived for the main thrust of talks starting Tuesday.

But with few expecting a full-fledged climate treaty anytime soon, the UN-led negotiations were considering extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 -- setting off sharp disagreements.

The United Nations and host Mexico are mindful of widespread disappointment over last year's summit in Copenhagen and have tried to keep expectations in check by discouraging heads of state from coming and highlighting progress.

"We must continue working with a new sense of urgency," Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said. "I am optimistic that we will move forward very quickly in the next two days."

But the climate negotiator for the European Union, which champions action against global warming, said that advances during Cancun's first week of lower-level talks had been insufficient.

"Texts currently on the table are not ready to be used by ministers to finalize a deal," EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.

"A robust and balanced outcome is in reach here in Cancun, but it requires us to step up the pace of negotiations. We have come here to negotiate, not restate national positions."

Talks are taking place on two tracks. Organizers released a draft agreement on one of them -- the part covering long-term action by the world against global warming.

The draft would reconfirm a key part of the Copenhagen accord -- that the world needs to make "deep cuts" in industrial emissions to keep warming in check at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The draft also calls for a review on whether the goal should be strengthened to 1.5 degrees Celsius in light of warnings by scientists that the world faces growing natural disasters and extinction of species due to climate change.

The agreement would recommit developed countries to mobilize 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help the poorest nations adapt to climate change.

Wendel Trio, international climate policy director for environmental group Greenpeace, said that the atmophere in climate diplomacy had "vastly improved" in the past year but that Cancun "can still go both ways."

"We can leave with an agreement that has substance on a pathway to a legally binding deal, or have one with very little substance. It's hard to predict, but at least there's a positive sign," he said.

Momentum in several key developed nations has shifted away from climate action. The United States is unlikely to approve nationwide cuts on emissions anytime soon after the November election victory of the Republican Party, some of whose members doubt the scientific basis of climate change.

Faced with the growing view that a new global treaty is far away, the European Union has led calls to extend the Kyoto Protocol. Its requirements for developed nations to cut emissions run out at the end of 2012.

Japan has adamantly rejected the idea, saying that the Kyoto Protocol -- negotiated in its ancient capital in 1997 -- is unfair and that it will not sign up for a second round of pledges under the treaty.

The Kyoto Protocol makes no demands of developing nations such as China, which is now the world's top emitter. The United States, the number two emitter, also is free of requirements as it rejected the treaty in 2001.

"We must dispel the clouds over the Kyoto Protocol because we do not want to handicap the Cancun outcomes," said Indian negotiator Vijai Sharma.

India has joined China in balking at US-led demands that the next treaty legally bind them to cut emissions.

Sharma said that the issue was premature, saying: "Unless we know the substance, how can we speculate about the form?"




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2010 to be among warmest years ever: UN experts
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 2, 2010
The year 2010 will be one of the warmest ever, climaxing a record-breaking decade, the UN's World Meteorological Organization said at global climate talks Thursday. "2010 is almost certain to be in the top three warmest years on record," WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud told a press conference. "It is probably the warmest one up to October-November." He added: "The decade from 2001 t ... read more

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