South Africa's Foreign Minister and President of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17), Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaks at the opening session of COP18 in Doha. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad
South Africa's Foreign Minister and President of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17), Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaks at the opening session of COP18 in Doha. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad

DOHA — The lack of cash to come out of pledges developed countries made to the developing world, to help it pay for development that would take climate change into account, was eroding trust at the start of this year’s climate change talks, the Climate Action Network said on Monday night.

Almost 200 countries have gathered in Doha, Qatar, for talks that could make or break the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only global agreement ever reached on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Its first commitment period expires at midnight on December 31 and agreement on a second commitment period has not yet been reached.

A major challenge, however, is the global financial crisis and its effect on the Green Climate Fund established through previous talks to help the developing world pay for the adaptations they need to make to better face the effects of climate change. The developed world has pledged nearly $30bn in grants and loans as part of "fast start" financing, and the annual $100bn fund. The cash, however, has not been flowing in and the fund has not begun operating.

About 30 European nations and Australia have signalled readiness to take on new commitments under the protocol, however major greenhouse gas emitters such as Canada, the US, Japan and Russia are refusing to sign on the dotted line unless the larger developing nations also take on commitments. China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter; India comes in third and South Africa is in the top 15.

"While developing countries can take on more action, they can only do so if developed countries provide finance," said Tasneem Essop of the World Wide Fund for Nature. The WWF is a member of the Climate Action Network, a global coalition of nongovernmental organisations.

South Africa, Brazil, China and India — known collectively as the informal BASIC negotiating group — have warned developed nations that responsibility for the talks’ outcome lies at their door. They have called on them to increase still more their targets for reducing emissions of "greenhouse" gases, linked to the overall rise in global temperatures.

The BASIC nations want the protocol to remain a key component of the international climate regime, and have said securing a second commitment period at Doha is one of the conference’s key deliverables.

Under the protocol industrialised nations agreed to cut their emissions by 5.2% over 1990 levels by the end of this year. There were no commitments for developing nations.

At the last conference, in Durban last year, the almost 200 negotiating nations agreed to settle on a "pact with legal force" by 2015, and to implement it by 2020. Several experts have said the Doha talks will at best thrash out the logistics of this, and few if any expect groundbreaking decisions to come out of this year’s talks.

Climate Action Network director Wael Hmaidan said the Doha talks needed to secure a fair and legally binding agreement on what the world would do, collectively, about climate change after 2020.

For starters, talks president Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah needed to make good on this first Middle Eastern talks presidency and make an emissions reduction pledge or "risk losing political momentum in the talks".

However, Mr al-Attiyah said Qatar, which has the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, was so small its emissions were insignificant in comparison with countries with far greater populations. There are approximately 5-million Qataris.

Mr al-Attiyah said Qatar already had a national emissions reduction strategy and was "one of the biggest believers" in solar power although its size caused problems as it simply did not have enough land space to set out enough solar energy farms to produce enough energy for its needs.

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