TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - The U.N. climate change chief urged governments on Monday to make real steps toward a new treaty to fight global warming or risk throwing negotiations into doubt.
Negotiators are meeting in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin to try reach agreement on what should follow the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the key treaty on climate change, which expires in 2012.
The fraught U.N. talks have been hobbled by lack of trust between rich and poor nations over climate funds, demand for more transparency over emissions cut pledges and anger over the size of cuts offered by rich nations.
Delaying agreement would leave less time for the world to figure out how to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and would add to uncertainties weighing on companies unsure where climate policy and carbon markets are headed after 2012.
"Now is the time to accelerate the search for common ground," Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told hundreds of delegates from some 177 countries at the opening session of the Tianjin talks, which last until Saturday.
"A concrete outcome in Cancun is crucially needed to restore the faith and ability of parties to take the process forward, to prevent multilateralism from being perceived as a never-ending road," she said in an opening speech at the meeting.
The talks are the last major round before the year's main climate meeting in the Mexican resort of Cancun from November 29.
Negotiators from nearly 200 governments failed to agree last year on a new legally binding climate pact. A meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009 ended in bitter sniping between rich and developing countries, and produced a non-binding accord that left many key issues unsettled.
Governments are struggling to overcome lingering distrust and turn sprawling draft treaties dotted with caveats into a binding agreement, possibly by late 2011.
"This week is to some extent going to be an indicator of how far forward we can go," the U.S. negotiator at the Tianjin talks, Jonathan Pershing, told Reuters.
"It now looks like the differences are quite large, but there's some hope of achieving consensus on some issues," the chief Chinese climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, told reporters.
DROUGHTS AND FLOODS
Recent devastating floods in Pakistan and severe drought in Russia are the kind of severe weather that rising temperatures are likely to magnify if countries fail to make dramatic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, said Wendel Trio, the climate policy coordinator for Greenpeace.
Figueres told Reuters in a separate interview that she hoped the Tianjin talks could agree on important specifics of a future pact, including how to manage adaptation funds and green technology to help poorer countries, and a program to support carbon-absorbing forests in Brazil, Indonesia and elsewhere.
"I think there's a pretty good chance that the governments will agree on the creation of the (climate) fund," she said.
Governments have said the fund could disperse up to $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with global warming. But negotiators have been wrestling over how to manage the money and the fund's design.
Developing countries want a more direct say, while the United States and other countries that would provide the funding want more vetting.
"When you're thinking about that scale of finance...we want to think about people who have expertise," said Pershing, the U.S. negotiator. "There's clearly a need to bring in guidance."
He said that could come from ensuring countries' finance ministries and other economic agencies help oversee spending.
Even if the negotiations make progress, the current pledges of governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to avoid pushing the world into dangerous global warming, roughly defined as a rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above average pre-industrial temperatures, said Figueres.
Governments should nonetheless focus on securing formal pledges of the emissions cuts already made, "fully realizing it is a first, necessary but insufficient step," she said.
(Editing by David Fogarty)