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Global warming talks inch toward accord - 'adaptation' cash a sore point

At the Copenhagen global warming talks, high-level delegations have arrived to kick negotiations into high gear. But the question of money to help poorer nations grapple with the effects of climate change remains a sticking point.

By Peter N. SpottsStaff writer / December 15, 2009

People leave a metro at an underground station in central Copenhagen, Tuesday.

Christian Charisius/Reuters


Copenhagen, Denmark

Ministers from more than 190 countries gathered in Copenhagen Tuesday to throw their political weight behind negotiations over a new pact to combat global warming.

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Over the next 48 hours, the ministers are expected to move toward an accord that brings the US and developing countries into a truly global pact on climate change.

In addition, countries party to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are trying to negotiate terms for a second commitment period, which would take effect in 2013.

The goal is to have something ready for heads of state and heads of government to agree to if they can, or compromise on if they must, to wrap up on Friday a political agreement on climate actions they'll take after Copenhagen.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged compromise in his speech at the high-level session's opening plenary.

"I understand that every leader coming to Copenhagen faces domestic pressures and domestic politics," he said. "No one will get everything they want in this negotiation. But if we work together and get a deal, everyone will get what they need."

One key to reaching an agreement is a solid commitment from developed countries to funnel significant amounts of cash to poorer countries to help them adopt cleaner and more efficient technologies, and prepare to grapple with the negative effects of a warmer planet. At this stage in the talks, however, draft text on the topic has one key gap: a specific number for long-term financing for that effort, often referred to as "adaptation."

The need for adequate adaptation efforts takes on additional significance when greenhouse-gas emission control offers already on the table are measured against Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change figures (IPCC). The IPCC formulation embodied in the Bali Action Plan, the road map for negotiations here, holds that wealthy countries must reduce their emissions by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by up to 95 percent by 2050 to stand a 50-50 chance of holding global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. Emissions from developing countries must fall substantially below business as usual, as well.

But offers on the table so far are likely to lead to a 3.9-degree C (7 degrees F) warming, according to a recent analysis by the scientists behind the website

Disaster preparedness

Adaptation in many ways is disaster preparedness or resilience by another name. Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said during a severe-weather briefing earlier this week that in 1970, a tropical cyclone struck Bangladesh, killing more than 300,000 people. A "super cyclone" that hit the country in 2007 killed some 3,500, still a tragedy, but far less so than nearly 40 years ago. Among the differences: better warning systems.

Yet with projections of higher sea levels, the retreat of mountain glaciers vital to down-stream water supplies, and more frequent and intensified droughts, adaptation efforts will have to advance significantly to help people cope, many analysts agree.