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Climate loss and damage talks in disarray after G77 walks out

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 20 November 2013 13:35 GMT

A man cuts a tree trunk that fell during Super Typhoon Haiyan into planks to be used as house-building material in the eastern Samar coastal village of Hernani, the Philippines, on November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

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Australian negotiators seen as the major roadblock to establishing a controversial mechanism to assist countries hit by climate-related losses

(Updates with G77 rejoining negotiations, U.S. comments)

WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Negotiations on setting up a controversial mechanism to deal with losses and damage caused by climate change were in disarray at climate talks in Warsaw on Wednesday, after representatives of the G77 group of developing countries staged a temporary walkout of discussions on the issue in the early hours of the morning.

"Today at almost 4am, the delegation of Bolivia and all the delegates of the G77, walked out of the...negotiation because we do not see a clear commitment of developed (country) parties to reach an agreement. They are proposing solutions or texts that in some cases are not even related to the issue," said Rene Gonzalo Orellana Halkyer, head of the Bolivian delegation.

The question of whether to establish a new global mechanism has caused deep divisions, because richer nations fear it could be used to make them pay compensation for the consequences of their planet-warming emissions to poorer countries suffering the worst impacts of more extreme weather, rising seas and gradual environmental changes such as desertification.

Civil society experts said Australian negotiators had also caused frustration on Wednesday morning by questioning language on the functions of any new body. The Australians reportedly came to the meeting wearing T-shirts, ate snacks during the proceedings, and suggested that negotiating so late into the night might be bad for health, according to Ria Voorhaar, communications coordinator for Climate Action Network International.

But the United States disputed whether the G77 negotiators had actually walked out of the meeting. “My understanding is that (discussions) proceeded in a business-like and constructive fashion - our negotiators were surprised to learn this morning that there had been a walkout ... The meeting ended with everybody leaving,” U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told journalists.

G77 nations rejoined the loss and damage talks again on Wednesday after a few hours, according to Quamrul Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi negotiator for the least developed countries.

Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), said the negotiations on loss and damage had been proceeding quite well, with attempts to explore different options put forward by the United States and the Europe Union, until the Australian intervention. "It was the straw that broke the camel's back at 4am last night," he told journalists.

Halkyer, the Bolivian official, also noted a proposal by Norway to deal with loss and damage in another United Nations forum, outside of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that underpins the climate negotiations.

The Philippines' climate change commissioner Naderev "Yeb" Saño, lead negotiator for the typhoon-hit Asian nation, said his country was disappointed with the "very slow" progress on loss and damage so far.

"Loss and damage is an issue that my delegation holds very dearly because of very obvious reasons. Climate change is already resulting in massive losses and damages in vulnerable countries like the Philippines and Bolivia," he said. "We must come up with an outcome here in Warsaw that addresses loss and damage in the form of an international mechanism."


Huq said the troubled issue would go to ministers to sort out in the remaining three days of the talks, which are due to end on Friday. But top-level officials from vulnerable, poorer states would not give ground on the establishment of a loss and damage mechanism at the conference, he added.

"Ministers from the least developed countries and small island developing states are strongly committed to getting what they need out of Warsaw, and if they don't get what they need, they are prepared to go back (home) with nothing," he said. A failure to set up a mechanism would create "bad will" in the wider negotiations, which are trying to lay a path to a new global climate deal in 2015, he noted.

Jayanthi Natarajan, India's minister for environment and forests, said she hoped disagreement over how to deal with loss and damage would not hold up progress at the climate talks. "But I would like to re-emphasise that our commitment and support for the concept of loss and damage, and for the compensation that those countries require is something that is absolutely fundamental and crucial, especially at Warsaw," she said. 

Tim Gore, Oxfam's climate spokesperson, described loss and damage as "the support poor countries need where there is no hope of adaptation".

"It is the last resort of poor countries which have seen little progress on emissions reductions and finance," he said.

“The decision (by the G77) to walk out highlights the level of exasperation there is with rich countries at these talks - particularly the Australian delegation which has blocked every attempt of progress and turns up to negotiations in t-shirts. The question now is how ministers will stop the rot spreading elsewhere," he added.

U.S. negotiator Stern said he thought the talks would find agreement over the loss and damage issue. "I don't see this (Warsaw) negotiation blowing up over that," he said. "I think we will find a resolution, but we are still some distance apart."

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