November 17, 2010 / 7:08 AM / 7 years ago

Q+A-What is the outlook for U.N. climate talks?

5 Min Read

This is the sixth in a series on major climate change themes

By Alister Doyle

Nov 17 (Reuters) - Low expectations mar sentiment for a new U.N. climate deal ahead of talks among 194 nations in Cancun, Mexico, from late November to mid-December, repeating the mood held before talks in Copenhagen a year ago.

What Will Happen in Cancun?

Environment ministers will try to agree on some of the building blocks of a U.N. deal to combat global warming. But almost all have given up hopes of a new treaty any time soon. The ultimate aim of the talks is to find a successor to the existing Kyoto Protocol, which limits emissions of rich nations until 2012.

What's the Best Outcome?

Cancun will be successful if it agrees on measures to help poor nations adapt to the impact of climate change, a "Green Fund" to manage climate aid, a mechanism to share clean technologies and new ways to protect carbon-absorbing forests. [ID:nTOE6A905H]

The talks will also try to define an elusive "long-term shared vision" to guide the fight against global warming until 2050. The United Nations also wants developed nations to firm up their promised cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

and the Worst?

Talks could break down with no agreement and then drift for years, like the Doha negotiations on a world trade deal. That could sour relations between rich and poor and raise new questions about whether the U.N. negotiations, which demand unanimity among 194 countries, can ever produce a deal.

What's the Mood?

Countries this year have stressed a need to "rebuild trust" after the 2009 Copenhagen summit ended with acrimony between rich and poor about how to share out curbs on emissions of greenhouse gases. But even there countries are struggling.

And President Barack Obama's hopes of legislating a cap on U.S. emissions, a step already taken by other industrialised nations, have faded after the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in mid-term elections.

if Cancun Succeeds, When Could There Be a Wider Deal?

At best, countries hope to transform any decisions in Cancun into a broader U.N. deal in late 2011, at the next annual U.N. meeting in South Africa. Others hold out hopes for a deal at an Earth Summit of world leaders in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Are There Any Deadlines?

The first period of the Kyoto Protocol expires on Dec. 31, 2012. Kyoto obliges almost 40 industrialised nations -- the United States is outside the deal -- to cut emissions by at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels from 2008-12.

But Kyoto members do not want to extend caps without more action by the United States and developing nations. Developing nations, meanwhile, say the rich must unilaterally extend Kyoto.

What Happened to the Sense of Urgency Before Copenhagen?

Enthusiasm for radical measures to slow global warming have been undermined by weak growth and high unemployment in many rich nations, the failure of Copenhagen to agree a treaty and by doubts about climate science. The United Nations says the risks of impacts such as floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising seas are as great as ever. [ID:nSGE68L0GB] [ID:nSGE6A9096]

Did Anything Come Out of Copenhagen?

About 140 nations agreed to the Copenhagen Accord, which sets a non-binding goal of limiting temperature rises to a maximum of below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Developed nations promised aid for developing nations approaching $30 billion for 2010-12, rising to $100 billion a year from 2020.

Many nations also made promises to tackle global warming. But current domestic pledges for cuts in emissions will mean a rise of more than 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, according to U.N. estimates.

Temperatures have already risen by about 0.7 deg C since the Industrial Revolution and scientists widely view 2 deg C as a threshold for "dangerous" climate change.

Who Wants What?

More than 100 nations, including least developed countries in Africa and small island developing states, want temperatures capped at below 1.5 degree Celsius, requiring far tougher cuts in emissions by rich nations. Most big emerging nations and developed nations favour a 2 deg C goal. Bolivia insists on the toughest goal, a ceiling of 1 deg C.

(Editing by Ed Lane)

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