updated 7/6/2009 8:31:25 PM ET 2009-07-07T00:31:25

Developing countries need money now to grapple with global warming, and the Group of Eight summit this week could energize troubled climate negotiations if it decided to make "significant" funds available, the top U.N. climate official said Monday.

The focus of U.N. climate talks over the past 18 months has been on an agreement to control greenhouse gases after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, including cash for developing countries.

But Yvo de Boer, who oversees the talks among 192 nations, says bumping up existing climate funds now would be a "practical, useful, tangible" signal to developing countries that the rich countries are serious about a deal. The accord is due to be completed in Copenhagen in December.

De Boer declined to mention figures, but studies by the World Bank and other institutions suggest between $5 billion and $10 billion a year are needed to help countries deal with changing weather patterns affecting agriculture, fishing and the effects of severe storms and drought. That figure could grow to $100 billion annually by 2020.

Accounts in the World Bank and special U.N. facilities now contain a few hundred million dollars.

Putting money on the table at the G-8 conference in Italy would allow poor countries "to prepare plans to limit the growth of their emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change," De Boer told The Associated Press from his office in Bonn, Germany.

More than 100 countries — many of them among the world's poorest — will suffer severely from climate change, he said.

"If I look at the magnitude of challenge, I think a significant amount would be important," he added.

Chronic hunger
For many of the poorest countries, climate change will mean more erratic and expensive food supplies, Oxfam International said in a report released Monday as a briefing paper for the G-8 leaders.

The British-based charity said chronic hunger may be "the defining human tragedy of this century," as climate change causes growing seasons to shift, crops to fail, and storms and droughts to ravage fields.

It predicted that as weather patterns change, farmers will be forced to abandon traditional crops. Water and food scarcity could lead to mass migration and conflict, it said in a study that found striking similarities across geographic zones.

More than 1 billion people, or about one in six people on earth, go hungry today. Without action, Oxfam said, most of the gains of fighting poverty in the world's poorest countries over the past 50 years will be wiped out, "irrecoverable for the foreseeable future."

Scientists warn that of potentially catastrophic climate change if average global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from preindustrial levels. To prevent that, greenhouse gas emissions should peak within the next few years and then rapidly decline by mid-century, according to the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The U.N. climate talks are stuck over demands that the industrial countries commit to specific pollution targets, while the wealthy nations insist that everyone must help limit greenhouse gases. Developing countries have agreed to shift toward low-carbon growth, if the receive technology and funding to help them.

Leaders of other major economies such as China, India and Brazil will join the G-8 leaders when climate change comes up on the agenda during the three-day summit at L'Aquila, Italy.

The big picture
De Boer said he hoped the session would deal with "big picture" issues. Besides financing, those might include fixing a firm pollution target for 2050 and setting an objective for 2020.

"These are the leaders who can make a difference, and this is the time to make a difference," De Boer said.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol required 37 countries to cut carbon emissions by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. But it made no demands on developing countries, which was one reason the United States rejected the accord.

Since then, China has overtaken the United States as the world's largest polluter, and India is rapidly approaching their league. The U.S., in a major policy shift under President Barack Obama, says it wants to be part of the Copenhagen deal.

As part of the negotiations, the industrial countries have been asked to say how much further they will reduce emissions by 2020. Russia became the latest to put up numbers, pledging last week to be 10 percent to 15 percent below 1990 levels.

Environmentalists denounced that target, since Russia's pollution fell dramatically after the fall of communism and the collapse of its economy in 1989. The World Wide Fund for Nature said it would amount to a "significant acceleration" of Russian emissions over the next decade of 2 to 2.5 percent a year.

With the Russian proposal, De Boer said all rich countries except New Zealand have now pledged figures for 2020, and it was time for hard bargaining to begin.

"Countries will begin examining each other's numbers, comparing them with each other, and seeing how they can show the maximum ambition in Copenhagen," he said.

More on:  G-8 summit | Climate change

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