Developed countries have wrangled over billions of dollars in commitments at UN talks in Copenhagen as they debated the best way to help the world's poorest adapt to the effects of global warming. So-called "adaptation" funding has become a new front in a wider struggle between industrialised countries and fast-growing states such as China over responsibility for slowing the planet's warming.
The top US negotiator, Todd Stern, said late on Wednesday that his country recognised its "historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere", while rejecting "the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations". Mr Stern added that such aid would probably not be channelled to China and other developing states with strong growth. China's reply was swift. Yu Qingtai, the nations's climate ambassador, said that adaptation aid "is not an act of charity or philanthropy of rich people".
"It is the legal and historical responsibility of the developed countries," Mr Yu said. The spat overshadowed a lesser fight among richer nations over the level of financial commitment they were willing to put on the table. In an effort to break the deadlock, Sweden announced it would contribute US$1.1 billion (Dh4.04bn) over three years, following the lead of Britain, which pledged last month to contribute £800 million (Dh4.77bn) to a new adaptation fund.
Yvo de Boer, the top UN climate official, has set a benchmark goal for contributions to total $30bn over three years to be eventually increased to several hundred billion dollars. European nations remain divided over how much to give and when. Government officials said yesterday that contributions were constrained by the economic crisis, which has squeezed budgets. EU members will gather today and tomorrow in Brussels for a year-end meeting and are expected to discuss the funding question.
Developed countries are also split over the institutions needed to channel funding to the most vulnerable countries. Richer nations generally favour extending the remit of existing institutions such as UN agencies, while developing countries want to create new institutions that are not dominated by the world's most powerful states. In a proposal unveiled yesterday, George Soros, the US billionaire, warned that the gap between pledged contributions and the need for funding could wreck the negotiations.
Mr Soros proposed that richer countries double available funding by using money provided this year by the IMF in response to the economic crisis. While Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries have said adaptation aid should be extended to cover the effect on their economy of a global shift away from a fossil fuels, no official proposal was submitted yesterday. The demand for compensation was more a bargaining tactic than a real request in the run-up to the talks, a report last week from Finland's institute of international affairs suggested.
"It must be stressed that the compensation issue is employed by Saudi Arabia as a means of achieving other ends, rather than as an ultimate objective," the report said.
* with agencies