Negotiators from nearly 180 countries hope to nail down the outline of a plan to provide tens of billions of dollars a year to fight climate change, in their final round of talks before a decisive conference in Copenhagen next month.
The five-day meeting beginning Monday will resume work on the draft of an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first international accord on controlling emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-changing gases.
They are charged with whittling down a thick draft document full of competing proposals, disputed wording and minority-backed options, and crafting a workable agreement that can be accepted by all 192 nations due to attend the Dec. 7-18 Copenhagen conference.
But with time swiftly running out, skepticism is mounting that one of the most complex treaties in history can be reached in the Danish capital, as envisioned when the negotiations began two years ago.
Deep divisions remain among industrial countries and the developing world on commitments by the rich countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on how the developing countries can lower the upward trajectory of their own emissions.
"It is realistic to say that in Copenhagen we will not be able to conclude a treaty, but it is important to lay down a political framework which will be the basis of the treaty," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the close of a European Summit in Brussels on Friday.
Even with that framework, she said, "negotiations will drag out longer until we get a treaty."
Environment advocates caution against losing faith and momentum.
"It is crucial that we keep ambitions high," said Kim Carstensen, the global climate strategist for the World Wildlife Fund, concerned that cascading pessimism could contribute to failure in Copenhagen.
The Kyoto Protocol required 37 countries to reduce emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012, but made no demands on emerging countries. The U.S. renounced it as unfair and harmful to its economy.
Over the next decade after Kyoto was signed through 2006, U.S. emissions grew 5.5 percent while India's grew 47 percent and China's by 92 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Of the 180 pages in the draft document discussed in Barcelona, 30 pages deal with financing for poor countries to help them adjust to climate changes and to move toward a greener development path.
The European Union gave shape to the discussion on Friday when it put a figure on the table. It called for euro5 billion to euro7 billion ($7.5 billion to $10.3 billion) over the next three years, scaling up gradually to euro100 billion, or nearly $150 billion a year, by 2020.
As much as half should come from governments and public money, while the other half should derive from private investments and from the carbon market in the industrial countries. Europe has had carbon trading since 2005, and the U.S. Congress is considering a similar cap-and-trade scheme.
Climate activists criticized the EU paper as too vague and the funding inadequate.
The policy paper avoided saying how much Europe would contribute to the climate fund and called on all countries except the poorest to throw money into the pot. The EU said it would pay its "fair share" if others did too.
Oxfam International called it an "opening bid for climate justice that is nowhere near enough."
"This is not yet a breakthrough for a climate deal. But the EU has shown that real numbers can now be negotiated," said Elise Ford, head of Oxfam's Brussels office.
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