World News

INTERVIEW - U.N. official sees climate aid scheme within months

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Developing nations could be able to apply within three months for some of the $30 billion in climate aid promised by rich nations at last year’s Copenhagen talks, a top United Nations official said on Monday.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, speaks during a conference at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Barcelona in this October 6, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Albert Gea/Files

The Copenhagen talks failed to produce a legally binding global agreement to cut emissions but developed nations did pledge $30 billion in “fast-start funding” for 2010-12 to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

The Copenhagen Accord was vague on how the money would be disbursed.

But the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, said a loose framework under which developing nations could apply for some of the money could be ready within three months.

“I was asked a few days ago by one member state whether I could give them a telephone number for who to ring about this $30 billion because they are trying to find out, as a developing nation, ‘Who do I talk to? Who do I call in this universe?’” Steiner told Reuters.

“If, in three months’ time, there still isn’t a phone number then I expect that part of the Accord to be in trouble, but I expect there to be one,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a major U.N. environment conference in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Steiner said countries were scrambling to work out how such a mechanism would work and sorting it out quickly would help ease the deep distrust between developed and developing nations.

Poorer nations point to years of broken promises on climate cash by rich countries, which they blame for most of mankind’s greenhouse gas pollution to date.

“There is no pot in which to put the money now. The question that will arise now is: will countries move bilaterally and make allocations country to country or to the World Bank or to the U.N. system?”

Steiner was unable to elaborate how the mechanism might work, but said it was vital to ensure the $30 billion was new money and not recycled overseas development aid.

“Should it be the latter, it will hurt the Accord,” he said.


Steiner said the way the world tackles climate change needed to be reformed and suggested the International Labor Organisation, World Trade Organisation and the World Health Organisation could provide inspiration.

Some rich nations have suggested a new international body could impose sanctions on countries failing to comply with international environmental law. This might be modelled on the WTO, but Steiner said sanctions were not a priority.

“That may be the ultimate step in terms of holding each other accountable, but I would not put sanctions at the front end of the agenda,” he said.

“We need to create a more transparent mechanism for holding each other accountable. But there is a very strong concern from many developing countries that they are being asked to sign up to more and more international obligations.”

He said financing promises from rich nations that were not honoured could still leave poorer countries accountable for implementing emissions curbs based on the non-existent funding.

Editing by David Fogarty and Ron Popeski