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Climate aid for poor nations a challenge

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DOHA, Qatar -- As nearly 200 countries meet in oil-and-gas-rich Qatar for annual talks starting today on slowing global warming, one of the main challenges will be raising climate aid for poor countries at a time when budgets are strained by financial turmoil.

A $100-billion-a-year promise from rich nations -- including Canada -- to help poor countries deal with climate change is still unfunded as of the end of 2012, a new report shows. And a second fund, meant to jump-start the promise, will run dry by Dec. 31.

Canada has given $400 million a year for the last three years to the latter climate fund to provide a down payment for poor countries to begin the work of cutting emissions and adapting to the inevitable effects of global warming.

But that fund drew only three years' worth of financial commitments from donor countries, for a total of $30 billion that will be drained by year's end.

Much of this money was recycled from other aid programs, says the study by Oxfam, an international non-governmental organization.

Borrowing a buzzword from the U.S. budget debate, Tim Gore of the British charity Oxfam said developing countries, including island nations for which rising sea levels pose a threat to their existence, stand before a "climate fiscal cliff."

"So what we need for those countries in the next two weeks are firm commitments from rich countries to keep giving money to help them to adapt to climate change," he said Sunday.

Creating a structure for climate financing has so far been one of the few tangible outcomes of the two-decade-old UN climate talks, which have failed in their main purpose: reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases scientists say are warming the planet, melting ice caps, glaciers and permafrost, shifting weather patterns and raising sea levels.

The only binding treaty to limit such emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, expires this year, so agreeing on an extension is seen as the most urgent task by environment ministers and climate officials meeting in the Qatari capital.

However, only the European Union and a few other countries are willing to join a second commitment period with new emissions targets. And the EU's chief negotiator, Artur Runge-Metzger, admitted such a small group is not going to make a big difference in the fight against climate change. "I think we cover at most 14 per cent of global emissions," he said.

The U.S. rejected Kyoto because it didn't cover rapidly growing economies such as China and India. Some hope for stronger commitments from U.S. delegates in Doha as work begins on drafting a new global treaty that would also apply to developing countries including China, the world's top carbon emitter.

-- The Associated Press, with file from CP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2012 A8

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