Doha climate talks: US faces dilemma over final text

NGO protests at the talks in Doha, Qatar Various NGOs have protested at the talks in Doha

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There has been a historic shift in the UN climate talks in Qatar, with the prospect of rich nations having to compensate poor nations for losses due to climate change.

The US has fiercely opposed the measure - it says the cost could be unlimited.

But after angry tussles throughout the night the principle of Loss and Damage is now in the final negotiating text.

Small island states at risk from inundation say they will walk out if the US vetoes the proposed deal.

The political stakes are high. The EU's position is not yet well defined, but soundings suggest that it can live with the text.

The US will be seeking support from other big polluters - like Canada - likely to face liability for climate damages.

If the US is left alone fighting against the chair's text, its negotiators face a dilemma - either to bow to the majority and accept that the nations which caused climate change bear a moral responsibility to other nations damaged by it, or to refuse to sign.

If the US vetoes the text, President Barack Obama will be accused of hypocrisy and failure after re-committing himself to tackling climate change since his re-election.

Start Quote

"I will block this. I will shut this down”

End Quote Todd Stern US chief negotiator

If he agrees the text he will face criticism from Republicans, whilst he tries to negotiate his own deal over US government finances.

One campaign group in Doha tweeted that before the text was agreed Todd Stern, the US chief negotiator, was heard saying: "I will block this. I will shut this down."

Saleem ul-Huq, from the think-tank IIED, told the BBC: "This is a watershed in the talks. There is no turning back from this. It will be better for the US to realise that the principle of compensation is inevitable - and negotiate a limit on Loss and Damage rather than leave the liability unlimited.

"[President Obama] has just asked Congress for $60bn (£37bn) for the effects of Sandy - developed nations are already having to foot the bill for loss and damage of their own."

The Qatari chair has warned delegates that only a few hours remain to sign off the deal. He says the conference will not overrun by another day.

Principle at stake

It is a point of principle that is at stake here for developing countries. In the end it's questionable how much extra money a Loss and Damage Mechanism might bring.

Already poor nations are bitter that rich nations, particularly the US are dragging their feet over a promise made at the failed Copenhagen climate summit to mobilise $100bn by 2020 to help poor nations get clean energy and adapt to climate change.

The developing countries say the original sum was too low - especially in the light of Mr Obama's request to Congress for Sandy damages of $60bn, and the UK's bid to raise £200bn for clean energy by 2020.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Here's an alternative perspective. Regardless of whether or not mankind is causing climate warming to occur, it is polluting the planet. We all know pollution in sufficient quantities (eg smog, chemicals in rivers and sea, plastic in fish) causes health risks (eg, cancer, dementia) In a perfect world pollution shouldn't occur. The money can be seen as a type of compensation for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    This is a problem that cannot be solved by tinkering with taxes, or paying compensation, and carrying on regardless.

    It's a problem where solutions should have been sought from the start, instead we've had nothing but efforts to monetise it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    #118 jrc
    This argument that warming hasn't occurred in the last 16 years is one many people bring up and so can understand you using it. It is severely flawed however. It is due to the very strong El Nino event which occurred in 1997-98. This effects climate on the very short time scale. If we remove the El Nino effect on temperature (Foster and Rahmstorf 2011) we see temp continues to increase

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.


    "It amazes me that people believe that our puny little race can alter the course of nature. King Canute comes to mind."

    Absurd arrogance indeed to think that we can do what we like without consequences.

    Short of a nuclear disaster, our tinkerings will have no long term effect. Nature compensates for change and ensures the survival of the planet and life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Yes richer countries should compensate for the damage they have caused and they should pass these costs straight onto the people who got rich by causing the damage. Take the money from the oil billionaires and use it to help the poor farmers who are seeing their fields turned into desert or washed away by storms and rising sea levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Sureley the burgeoning populations of these 'victim' developing countries is far more of a threat to the planet than questionable man-made influences on the climate. Any mechanisms for Britain getting compensation for overpopulation of Indonesia, India , China , Malaysia?
    Thought not

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    How can one meaningfully conduct a cost-benefit analysis to calculate a monetary value for saving the planet? Unfortunately, as the COP conferences perversely translate environmental problems into purely economic problems and invite subjecting those problems to CBA analyses. how can any COP conference secure the future of the planet? We consumers can end the destruction only by changing ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    RE: 123.
    2 Minutes ago

    Far more evidence to show that climate change is natural.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Be very careful about using the term "global warming". It is too often misunderstood.

    Better to use "climate change", as not all regions will experience warming.

    To those who say, it always changes, we'll be fine:

    In the past (pre-history especially) we adapted by migration. That's not possible in the modern, so either we pre-adapt, or tolerate a worse, forced change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    It won't matter how much money you give to Al Gore, (remember him?)
    It will never stop the SUN from shining.

    The preaching from the Church of Global Warming is at last becoming acknowledged by many now as just another sermon designed to exploit the weak and gullible and have them hand over they're money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Let's make a few assumptions.
    1. Climate change is happening
    2. It is the fault of the industrialised nations
    3. The underdeveloped nations will suffer most.
    How on earth will any amount of money cure the problem ? You can't eat money and you can't turn it into land. Why can't the leaders tackle how to stop polluting rather than just paying cash to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Re 119 penguin337 - 6 billion active consumers, millions of years of stored energy released into the atmosphere in little over a century. Deltas sinking and prone to flooding due to dams, ocean acidification, forests felled, deserts irrigated, fresh water polluted due to toxic waste, mono agriculture, genetic modification, pesticides. Yep we have just been sitting on our hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Why pay billions for something that technology and evolution will naturally come around to sort out anyway? We don't know what the weather is doing, the climate scientist that claim they do earn money from spreading fear (Al Gore, candidate No.1). The game is up. I heard a fireman using climate change as a reason not to cut jobs the other day. If you want your own way blame it on climate change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Good lord, despite all of the very hard scientific evidence, there are still Global Warming deniers out there? I'm astonished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Surely this must be addressed; that is the whole purpose of the talks.
    You can't have agreement in principle and then carry on polluting just because you have a powerful economy and a big industrial/military base.
    Wake up USA, China, Russia and all the other hangers on who value money more than their childrens' future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    #90 Mike Haseler of SCEF
    Royal Society statement: "There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the dominant cause of the global warming that has taken place over the last half century."
    Far from humans have a vague impact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    it is interesting !

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    The climate changes folks, it has always changed
    Get over it

    People who believe that man has the ability to change the climate of planet earth can always pray for salvation

    The harder you pray, the more influence you will have, if you believe in that sort of thing

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    #78 thetruth

    "We know that climate change will have multiple impacts and global warming is one of them."

    And global warming is simply not happening. Hasn't for 16yrs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    At best we can only delay for a few decades or centuries whatever consequences a warmer world will bring. Unchecked population growth will ensure to that. Meanwhile we can fiddle at the edges, might be just as well to carry on as we are and get it over with.


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