International agreements to fight the threat of climate change will not make any further progress unless rich countries deliver on their promises of almost $30bn in short-term funding for developing economies, the UN’s senior climate official has warned.
Christiana Figueres, who took over as executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change in July, said the climate talks in Cancún in November could make progress on practical measures for tackling global warming, such as holding back deforestation, if the money is forthcoming.
The Cancun meeting had been intended to codify the accord reached at the Copenhagen climate talks last year. Ms Figueres indicated this was now unlikely but said she hoped the Mexico meeting would strengthen the accord’s legal standing.
She also raised the prospect of ministers agreeing measures for monitoring the promises of emissions curbs that were made at Copenhagen. However, Ms Figueres said, the “fast-start” funding from rich countries, supposed to be paid in 2010-12, would be the “golden key” to any further agreements.
“Developing countries see the fast-start finance as proof of the seriousness of the industrialised world’s participation in the talks,” she told the Financial Times. “If that is not there, it will be very difficult to talk about anything else.”
The fast-start money was offered to help poor countries take immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect against the harm done by climate change.
Rich countries made total pledges worth about $28bn, but the sums so far committed are much smaller. A website set up by the UN framework convention to monitor promises, which is still incomplete, records commitments worth about $3.4bn. It shows that the UK has pledged £1.5bn ($2.3bn), but committed only £511m, while Denmark has pledged DKr1.2bn ($217m), but committed DKr308m.
Another list of pledges by the World Resources Institute, the environmental campaign group, shows that not all of the promised money is new, with some coming from existing development aid and environment budgets.
Ms Figueres, a Costa Rican former climate diplomat, repeated her belief that there would “never be a final global agreement on climate”, because the science was continually evolving. She accepted that Copenhagen had been “disappointing to many”, but said it was important to learn from the failure of the talks to secure a new comprehensive climate treaty.
“Action on the ground”, including fighting deforestation and funding and technological co-operation for low-carbon energy, would be the focus of the Cancún meeting, she added, and progress on those issues would make it a “pretty successful” meeting.
“That’s the tension there. Governments will need to go step by step, and that stands in stark contrast to the urgency of the science,” she said.