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Ministers face off on climate finance in Warsaw
by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) Nov 20, 2013

Polish environment minister sacked as he chairs UN climate talks
Warsaw (AFP) Nov 20, 2013 - Poland's sacking of Environment Minister Marcin Korolec in a government reshuffle Wednesday sparked ire at the ongoing UN climate talks in Warsaw which he is chairing.

Korolec was one of seven cabinet ministers -- including the finance minister -- replaced by Prime Minister Donald Tusk at a time when his centre-right government is battling low popularity, a sluggish economy and corruption allegations.

"This is nuts," Greenpeace Poland director Maciej Muskat said in a statement after the reshuffle.

"Changing the minister leading the climate negotiations after a race to the bottom by parties of the convention shows Prime Minister (Donald) Tusk is not sincere about the need for an ambitious climate deal."

The sacking comes with just over two days left in the annual round of UN climate talks that observers and delegates say have been marked by a worrying lack of progress.

Only two years from now, the world community is supposed to seal a historic pact that will roll back greenhouse gases and save Earth's climate system for future generations, while also helping poor countries exposed to worsening natural disasters.

Tusk replaced Korolec with Maciej Grabowski, a proponent of hydraulic fracturing or fracking -- the controversial method of extracting hydrocarbons -- further setting off Muskat's ire.

"Justifying the change of the minister by the need to push the exploitation of another fossil fuel in Poland is beyond words, especially in the light of the majority of Poles wanting to see increased investment in renewables - not fossil fuels," Muskat said.

Korolec will continue however to preside over the UN climate negotiations until at least the next scheduled talks in Peru in December of next year and possibly the key 2015 negotiations in Paris.

Korolec will remain Poland's chief negotiator "for as long as is necessary", Tusk said.

"Now I will be able to fully concentrate on the process of climate negotiations," Korolec told reporters Wednesday.

Grabowski, who officially takes over on November 27, said exploiting shale gas in Poland would be "his priority".

Poland, which wants to continue exploiting its coal to ensure energy independence from Soviet-era master Moscow, also plans to tap its shale gas deposits, to the horror of environmentalists.

Total investment in exploration and development of the shale gas sector by domestic and foreign companies could reach 12.5 billion euros ($16.9 billion) by 2020.

Last month, Lane Energy Poland -- controlled by US energy giant ConocoPhilips -- began shale gas extraction at a test well in northern Poland.

Rich and poor countries squared off at climate talks in Warsaw on Wednesday as UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for "much bolder" action to stave off an existential peril.

The two sides squabbled over funds to help poor nations deal with global warming and apportioning curbs in greenhouse gases.

Amid the haggling, Ban urged parties not to lose sight of the big picture.

"Climate change is the greatest single threat to peace, prosperity and sustainable development," the UN secretary general told negotiators in the Polish capital.

Dozens of ministers joined a special meeting on finance as, in other rooms, work continued laboriously on a global pact that must be sealed by the end of 2015.

The deal must roll back emissions from fossil fuels to avert climate damage for future generations and help poor countries exposed to worsening storms, floods, droughts and rising seas.

With only two days left in this annual round, some observers and delegates said the talks were badly deadlocked, particularly on finance.

Developing nations are challenging wealthy countries to honour a 2009 pledge to muster up to $100 billion (74 billion euros) by 2020.

Still struggling with an economic crisis, the developed world is wary of unveiling a point-by-point plan at this stage, or pledging any new short-term figures.

"The 100 billion is a goal we need to establish a very clear roadmap for," insisted Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan.

"Unless that is provided for, it will be impossible for us to take forward any meaningful discussion and we feel the negotiations will be rendered completely meaningless," she told journalists.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said poor nations were doing their best to mobilise funds for climate change, but the costs were "just too high".

Funding hit by crisis

Poland's Marcin Korolec, chairing this year's negotiations, said the finance discussion was "challenging" and underscored the constraints caused by the economic crisis.

"We could not have predicted the economic darkness that we have all lived through for the past five years."

Ban said that to achieve the UN goal of limiting average global warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-Industrial Revolution levels, "our target for scaling up climate finance must be much bolder."

The United States and Europe were quick to point to their own efforts.

US negotiator Todd Stern said his country had contributed about $2.7 billion in public money in 2013, "the highest number that we have had in the last four years". European Union envoy Connie Hedegaard said the 28-nation bloc had earmarked some 1.7 billion euros in 2014-2015.

The money crunch also lies at the heart of another issue bedevilling the talks: demands by developing countries for a mechanism to help them deal with climate-related losses and damage.

Rich nations fear being locked into never-ending liability for compensation.

Countries including the United States and Australia said there was no need to create a "loss and damage" mechanism separate from existing systems for dealing with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Another bone of contention is deciding how to share out future emissions curbs.

Developing countries, many like China and India burning vast reserves of atmosphere-polluting coal to fuel their economic development, want wealthy nations to make deeper cuts to make up for their long history of emissions.

"Developed countries need to do more... now, and not transfer all the burden of climate change to the poor of the world after 2020," said India's Natarajan.

But US negotiator Stern dismissed this.

Any agreement in which "the developed countries would be treated in one way, in one section of the agreement, and developing countries in a different part of the agreement" was a "non-starter", he said.


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