Image: Deforested area of Brazil
Antonio Scorza  /  AFP-Getty Images
A deal on rewarding tropical countries for preventing deforestation like this view in northern Brazil was stuck in  committee Monday at the U.N. climate talks in Poznan, Poland.
updated 12/8/2008 5:57:55 PM ET 2008-12-08T22:57:55

Negotiators at a U.N. climate conference worked Monday to resolve differences over a deal to protect the world's forests and pressed industrial countries to drastically reduce their carbon emissions.

The top U.N. climate official, Yvo de Boer, said the talks were going well, despite "problematic" issues, but nongovernment groups described the negotiations as "slow" and said they had even moved backward on several points.

Nearly 190 countries are working on a global warming treaty to regulate pollution by greenhouse gases and to help poor countries handle the effects of climate change, from rising sea levels to more severe storms, droughts and floods.

The agreement, to be concluded next December in Copenhagen, Denmark, would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and requires industrial countries to slash emissions mainly from heavy industries and vehicles.

On Monday, a deal on rewarding tropical countries for preserving their forests was stuck in a committee, as delegates debated the technicalities of measuring deforestation and the degradation, or thinning, of forests. Until that is resolved, the convention could not discuss how to finance conservation.

Scientists say deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of carbon emissions caused by man, since vegetation breathes carbon and removes it from the atmosphere, while burning or clearing forests releases the stored carbon back into the air.

"It's frustrating," said Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace, an environment group. "They haven't made any progress in the last week."

Also in dispute was a demand that industrial countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions some 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Under the Kyoto Protocol, 37 countries must bring pollution down to an average 5 percent below 1990 levels.

Role for insurers?
De Boer said the delegations were discussing the idea of incorporating insurance schemes into the climate change treaty, giving lower premiums to countries that take steps to reduce the risks of major climate disasters. That could include actions like building sea barriers and reinforcing homes to withstand hurricanes.

As with any insurance policy, "premiums are linked to risk," said Andrew Torrance, chairman of an association of 42 insurance companies called ClimateWise.

Torrance said $83 billion was paid in insurance claims for natural disasters in 2005, a record year that saw Katrina and other hurricanes devastate southern coastal U.S. cities.

"The science is clear — there will be more severe and more frequent catastrophes," he said on the sideline of the conference.

The insurance proposal was raised by Tuvalu, an island country threatened by extinction if the Pacific Ocean rises by several feet. That could happen if the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheet melts.

The global financial crisis shadowed the talks, as delegates debated how to raise the hundreds of billions of dollars needed every year to help developing countries adapt to climate change and lower the rapid growth of their emissions.

New Deal on energy?
The head of the International Energy Agency, a 28-country group that advises governments on energy security, called for a "clean energy New Deal."

IEA chief Nobuo Tanaka said countries must act now to develop renewable energies and make traditional energy sources more efficient, such as capturing carbon released by coal-burning power plants.

"It's not an exaggeration to say the world stands at a crossroads on climate change. The science is clear — action is urgently needed," he said. "At the same time, global emissions are continuing to rise and we are now facing a really serious financial and economic crisis that could hamper our efforts to curb emissions."

Tanaka cited an IEA study forecasting that global energy demand will increase by 45 percent from 2006 to 2030. If the world continues to rely on its current mix of polluting energy sources, the report said that would lead to a rise in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Even a 2-degree-Celsius (3.6-degree-Fahrenheit) rise could subject up to 2 billion people to water shortages by 2050 and threaten 20 percent to 30 percent of the world's species with extinction, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told delegates in a video message Monday that fighting climate change will also help the global economy recover from recession.

"There are some people who say that we can't afford the fight against global warming while our economies are down — but the exact opposite is true," he said. "The green rules and regulations that will help save our planet will also revive our economies."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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