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WikiLeaks adds twist to climate hopes

US Supreme Court to hear key global warming case
Washington (AFP) Dec 6, 2010 - The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider a key global warming case over the right of US states to regulate carbon emissions as a "public nuisance." In a move that could significantly impact the US approach to fighting climate change, the top court in the coming months will consider a lower ruling that allows states and environmental groups to sue utility companies under federal public nuisance law to make them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. US federal law already provides a system to regulate greenhouse gases, but the appeals court ruling in favor of the lawsuit filed by environmentalists, eight states and New York City would allow an additional avenue to pursue emitters. The power companies lobbying for an overruling contend the lower court created a "regime for setting caps on greenhouse gas emissions based on 'vague and indeterminate nuisance concepts.'"

The potential compensation, the companies argue, for the impact of climate change impacts "would make the tobacco pay-outs look like peanuts." In their view the move would allow an individual court's assessment "of what is 'reasonable'" compensation to the potential damage their output caused. According to one of the environmental groups that brought the case, Open Space Institute, the appeals court's ruling set a "major precedent in that it gives citizens -- in the absence of climate change legislation -- the right to take action against big business pollution." The lawsuit was brought by the groups, New York City, and the states of Connecticut, California, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
by Staff Writers
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 6, 2010
Climate negotiators Monday hailed a brighter mood in often torturous global talks, but disclosures by WikiLeaks of hard-nosed behind-the-scenes diplomacy threatened to reopen fissures.

A two-week session in the Mexican resort of Cancun is looking to make incremental progress toward a new treaty to fight climate change, which UN scientists warn threatens severe effects for the planet if unchecked.

The main negotiations are set to open Tuesday, but participants said they have already seen surprising progress in drafting a statement on future action and on measures to curb deforestation, a major contributor to global warming.

"It's clear we're in a much better place this year than we were a year ago at the mid-point in Copenhagen," said Tim Gore of Oxfam International, referring to last year's much-criticized summit in the Danish capital.

"We can be cautiously optimistic about getting a meaningful agreement here in Cancun," he said.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that "generally some progress was made" and a final agreement in Cancun "was within reach."

"But I have to say that we are also concerned because the texts are not ready to be used by ministers to finalize their deal," she said, saying they were "still much too complicated."

With few expecting a treaty by the time the Kyoto Protocol's requirements run out at the end of 2012, the European Union has led calls to extend the landmark treaty.

The EU position has triggered protests from Japan. It says Kyoto is unfair by not involving the two top polluters -- China, which has no requirements as a developing country, and the United States, which rejected the treaty in 2001.

The Copenhagen accord calls on all major emitters to cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming with a view to checking global warming at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

WikiLeaks, the controversial website which obtained secret US diplomatic correspondence, released memos that showed the United States and European Union working together aggressively to sell the Copenhagen deal.

Most major emitters including China eventually associated themselves with the Copenhagen accord, although some questioned how much legal weight it carries.

In one cable, reported by the British newspaper The Guardian, Hedegaard is quoted as telling a US official that small island nations "could be our best allies" as they need financial assistance from wealthy states.

The goal would be to step up pressure on developing countries such as India and Brazil to sign up. Such emerging powers have taken growing action on climate change but stated adamantly that the measure are voluntary and that rich nations bear historic responsibility for the problem.

A leaked cable also said the European Union and United States looked at ways to "neutralize, co-opt or marginalize" countries seen as "unhelpful" -- particularly Venezuela and Bolivia, which have raised persistent objections during climate negotiations on issues both of substance and process.

Asked about the leaks, Hedegaard -- a Dane closely involved in the Copenhagen summit -- said that the cables offered a "one-sided and selected" US account of conversations.

She denied any untoward pressure toward the most vulnerable nations such as Maldives, saying: "For many reasons we want to work very much with them."

Hedegaard said she did not believe the disclosures would hurt the Cancun talks, saying everyone knows "that you discuss a lot of things" in negotiations.

But Bolivian negotiator Pablo Solon said he was "greatly concerned" by the disclosures.

The cables "confirm what we've always been saying and the United States has been denying: the interference, pressure and blackmail regrettably conducted by the US administration," he said.

President Barack Obama's administration believes that strong and binding action by China is crucial to persuading US lawmakers to move ahead on action against climate change.

But the United States looks unlikely to approve a nationwide carbon reduction plan anytime soon after the rival Republican Party made important gains in the November congressional elections.

Many Republican lawmakers believe that binding cuts in carbon emissions would hurt a vulnerable economy and some Republicans doubt the science behind climate change.

earlier related report
Guarded hope at UN climate talks
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 6, 2010 - Negotiators on climate change were raising their hopes Monday 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 atmosphere 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?"

The consequences of climate change were evident even in the Mayan community of Tabi, around 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of Cancun, where farmers said changes in the weather are forcing them to change their lives.

These days rain is increasingly unpredictable in a region where the wet season had 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?" farmer Eunice Be Chuc told AFP.

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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 h ... read more

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