Alf Wills
Alf Wills

DOHA — A conflict of interest led to SA declining a request by this year’s United Nations climate change presidency to work with Switzerland in a bid to end an impasse betw een developed and developing nations on how to finance poorer countries reaction to climate change’s effects.

South African lead negotiator Alf Wills confirmed on Wednesday SA had turned down the offer. "Yes, we were asked; no, we aren’t. We have a conflict of interest. We are speaking for Africa on the issue," he said.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said a replacement offer had not yet been settled.

The deadlock over when developed countries had to put money into a fund that should be able to disburse $100bn a year by 2020 continued into this week as almost 200 nations gather in Doha, Qatar, to broker a deal on how to deal with climate change.

Developed countries claim they promised to start contributing money to the fund only from 2020; developing countries believe industrialised nations should start next year.

Deputy US climate change envoy Jonathan Pershing said that "current discussions committed us to looking at a 2020 figure (as a contribution to the $100bn a year)".

European Union negotiator Pete Betts concurred, but Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) chairman Pa Osman Jarju said the LDCs and other developing countries expected the funds from January 1.

"It is a red line for developing countries," South African senior negotiator Xolisa Ngwadla said. "Without it, what do you do between now and 2020?"

Mr Ngwadla said diplomacy was "the art of the possible" and it was precisely for deadlocks such as these that government ministers had jetted into Doha at the start of the week.

The G-77 group of countries and China were "certainly putting pressure" on the developed world to stump up the cash, Mr Ngwadla said. "We are enthused by the £1.8bn the UK has put on the table." On Tuesday, the UK promised £1.8bn for developing countries, but Mr Ngwadla said it was unclear how much was "new and additional", as required by agreement.

Association of Small Island States negotiator Ronny Jumeau said that in light of the mayors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut requesting $83bn "in one stroke" to fix the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, developed countries’ request for $100bn a year to fight climate change was entirely reasonable.

"Are we really asking for a lot when we ask for $100bn?… I am pretty sure Sandy has other relatives," he said.

Mr Pershing said the US was committed to, and was "working on", providing more funding between next year and 2020.

Mr Jumeau said the "destructive power of a warming planet" from which US President Barack Obama had said Americans wanted to protect their children was "already here".

"The world President Obama is afraid of is already here … we (talks parties) are like a caravan lost in a sandstorm", he said, referring to the apparent global refusal to make use of technology and finance already available to stave off climate change.

The United Nations Environmental Programme has repeatedly said humanity already has the technology and funds to move away from the emission of greenhouse gases that would push the average rise in global temperatures beyond 2°C.

Sue Blaine is attending the talks on a scholarship from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.