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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. faces dilemma at Doha climate talks over compensation

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By Ken Hanly     Dec 8, 2012 in Environment
Doha - The principle of Loss and Damage would see rich countries being required to compensate poor countries for losses due to climate change. The U.S. has strongly opposed any compensation agreement.
The U.S. opposition to the principle of Loss and Damage has not prevailed even after angry sessions throughout the night. The principle is enshrined in the final negotiating text. If the U.S. vetoes the deal, small island countries such as the Seychelles say they will walk out. Many of these countries face inundation as seal levels rise.
The U.S. will seek support from other big polluters among developed countries, such as Canada, who would also be faced with paying for climate damaged already caused. The European Union's position has not been made clear, although signs are that it will tolerate the text.
Should the U.S. be isolated along with a few others in opposition to the final text, it has to choose whether to bow to the majority or simply refuse to sign and be condemned by many countries and environmental groups. The U.S. refused to sign on to the earlier Kyoto protocol.
The United Nations Climate Conference, in Doha Qatar, involves 17,000 participants. Ironically, Qatar has some of the highest per-capita emissions on the globe. The conference will address a number of issues, such as the possible extension of the Kyoto protocol or the creation of a new protocol to replace it binding both rich and poor nations by 2015. However, a number of countries damaged already by climate change and threatened by more in the future are seeking compensation by those countries responsible for the pollution.
A spokesperson for small island states (AOSIS), Ronald Jumeau, condemned rich nations for their inability to see the urgency of the situation. Jumeau complained that if the rich had cut their emissions earlier there would be no need for the present conflict over compensation. He said: "The Doha caravan seems to be lost in the sand. As far as ambition is concerned, we are lost. We're past the mitigation (emissions cuts) and adaptation eras. We're now right into the era of loss and damage. What's next after that? Destruction? Disappearance of some of our islands? We're already into the era of re-location. But after loss and damage there will be mass re-locations if we continue with this loss of ambition."
The Loss and Damage idea is backed by a petition to governments from 44 NGO's, representing millions concerned about the effects of climate change, and led by Care. The petition says:
"The first and foremost response must be to immediately and dramatically cut emissions and help vulnerable countries and ecosystems adapt to new climate realities.. Governments must now also recognize that we are in a "third era" and redress the permanent loss and damage from climate impacts.Given historic inaction by developed countries we are heading for the biggest social injustice of our time."
If the U.S. should veto the text of the draft final agreement, Obama will be accused of hypocrisy after he committed himself to tackling climate change after his re-election. If he goes along with the text he will be criticized by Republicans. The chief U.S. chief negotiator Todd Stern said: "I will block this. I will shut this down”.
One analyst argued that the U.S. should recognize that the principle of compensation was inevitable and that the U.S. should try to limit liability rather than completely opposing the principle.Saleem ul-Hug said: "This is a watershed in the talks. There is no turning back from this. It will be better for the US to realise that the principle of compensation is inevitable - and negotiate a limit on Loss and Damage rather than leave the liability unlimited. [President Obama] has just asked Congress for $60bn (£37bn) for the effects of Sandy - developed nations are already having to foot the bill for loss and damage of their own."
Poorer nations are already bitter at rich nations, particularly the U.S, over a promise at the Copenhagen summit to mobilize $100 billion by 2020 to help poorer nations develop clean energy and adapt to climate change. Developing countries claim that rich nations are not only dragging their feet on delivering on the promise but the amount was much too low. They point out that Obama moved quickly to ask congress for $60 billion to compensate victims of the recent hurricane Sandy. However, the inhabitants of these developing nations do not get to vote in U.S. elections.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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