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U.N. climate talks hear from the frontline

Victims of climate change, real and potential, appealed Tuesday for a vast increase in aid to protect them from and compensate them for rising seas, drought and other likely impacts of global warming.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Victims of climate change, real and potential, appealed Tuesday for a vast increase in international aid to protect them from and compensate them for rising seas, crop-killing drought and other likely impacts of global warming.

When your country is just 100 yards wide at points, where do you run when the water rises?

"There's nowhere to move back to," Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, told U.N. climate conference attendees meeting in Bali. "Because if you move back, you're either in the lagoon or in the ocean."

The leader of the central Pacific island nation spoke via videotape in a stepped-up campaign to win greater international aid.

The two-week U.N. conference, considered pivotal to efforts to reduce industrial and other emissions warming the planet, will likely decide on the future of the "Adaptation Fund," being developed under U.N. agreements to enable poorer countries to adjust to climate change.

The fund has thus far drawn a mere $67 million for a task the World Bank estimates will cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

The almost 190 nations assembled here for the annual U.N. climate conference are taking up the fund's future among other issues on an agenda aimed chiefly at launching a two-year negotiating process to seal a deal to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

That 175-nation accord requires 36 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a key source of global warming, by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States is the only industrial nation that has rejected Kyoto.

The European Union and others are seeking a post-Kyoto agreement that would mandate much deeper reductions by industrial nations — including, they hope, the U.S. — in carbon dioxide and other such emissions from power plants, factories, vehicles and other sources.

'Real resources' in a year?
Many here also want to see China and other major emerging economies take steps to curtail the increase in their emissions. The two weeks of talks promise to be difficult, with success far from guaranteed.

Operation, control and funding of the Adaptation Fund has been debated for years at these meetings of U.N. climate treaty parties.

The U.N. climate chief, Yvo de Boer, told reporters Tuesday he hoped it was possible that this meeting would finally make the fund operational, "so that perhaps in as little as a year before real resources for adaptation can begin to flow to developing countries."

The fund is expected to finance climate-change projects ranging from sea walls to guard against expanding oceans, to improved water supplies for drought areas, to training in new agricultural techniques.

All acknowledge, however, that the available money is relatively paltry.

The fund is financed by a 2-percent levy on revenues generated by the Clean Development Mechanism, the program whereby industrial nations pay for "carbon credits" produced by emissions-reduction projects in the developing world — credits then counted against reduction targets at home.

Those levies thus far are "tiny compared to the need," said Kate Raworth, a senior research with the Oxfam International aid group.

New revenue sources?
Oxfam and other advocacy groups favor a broadening of Adaptation Fund revenue sources, perhaps to include aviation taxes or direct taxes on all fossil-fuel use.

"The money should come from the countries most responsible and most capable," Raworth said, listing the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada.

An Oxfam news conference was joined by a representative of the people of Papua New Guinea's Carteret Islands, in the far western Pacific, believed to be among the world's first "climate refugees."

As seas expand from warming and from the runoff of melting land ice, higher and higher tides are eating away at tiny places like the Carterets, a sandy atoll of a half-dozen islands.

Its 3,000 people, no longer able to grow taro, their staple crop, are preparing to abandon the islands over the next several years, resettling on designated land on nearby Bougainville island.

The islanders have a relocation appropriation of 2 million kina in local currency ($800,000), but to move 600 families that "doesn't go a long way," said their representative, Ursula Rakova.

"We still need more money, from people like America," she said.