October 6, 2008 / 2:09 PM / 9 years ago

U.N. sees risks mounting for global warming fight

LONDON/BARCELONA (Reuters) - The struggle against climate change must not follow world trade talks into limbo as risks mount that the credit crisis will sap commitment to the fight, the U.N. climate chief said on Monday.

<p>Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), addresses a news conference on occasion of the Vienna Climate Change Talks in Vienna August 27, 2007. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader</p>

Yvo de Boer said he was worried about the impact of the credit crisis on international action to fight climate change, as U.S. and European governments pour cash into keeping commercial banks afloat.

“You can only spend a dollar or a euro once,” he said.

“I certainly think it’s a worrying development. It’s more a matter of the past couple of days than the past couple of weeks,” de Boer told Reuters, referring to a call over the weekend by European automakers for money to help them cope with emissions curbs.

“There’s growing pressure ... from the point of view of competitiveness,” he said.

De Boer said that U.N. negotiations were still on track but, in the worst case, there were risks of failing to meet an internationally agreed deadline for a new U.N. climate treaty by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen.

“For me there is no Plan B,” he said. “I have the sense that it’s a huge and daunting task but we’re still on track, there’s still commitment to reach an agreement in Copenhagen.”

“One alternative would be that we don’t manage to meet a deadline in Copenhagen and that we slide into a WTO-like process that goes on without a clearly agreed deadline, or perhaps even worse that you get a highly fragmented approach to climate change,” he said.

In climate talks so far rich nations had failed to flesh out their promises to give technology and financing help to poorer countries, China’s climate change ambassador Yu Qingtai told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Yu was pessimistic about the prospect for agreement on a new global climate treaty meant to avert more droughts, floods, extinctions of species and rising sea levels.

That split between rich and poor nations resonates with a collapse in July of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha round of free trade talks -- partly following a dispute between the United States and emerging economies.

FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE

China wants the West to do more to finance the fight against climate change, but financial commitment from the United States and Europe may be diverted by bailouts of the banking sector.

“There’s a risk that less public money will be available in the North for cooperation with the South on technology and capacity building,” said de Boer. “Taken together there’s a risk that short-term concerns will prevail.”

“I hope that this doesn’t result in people in the South waiting for (climate change) adoption money having to wait for mortgages and credit card debts to be paid off in the North.”

In a “Super Tuesday” vote this week, key European Parliament lawmakers will vote on whether to back ambitious, unilateral goals for the European Union to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

While they are expected to back the overall target to cut greenhouse gases, they are under intense lobby pressure to cut the costs of meeting those goals for industry.

Poland said on Monday that it was assembling a minority of member states sufficient to block cost impacts on coal-fired electricity generation from EU energy and climate proposals -- in growing signs final agreement may be delayed.

“I certainly hope the EU manages to finalize its climate and energy package by the end of the year,” said de Boer.

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