Doha climate talks open amid warnings of calamity

Nearly 200 countries launched a fresh round of UN climate talks in Doha, facing urgent appeals to scale up the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.

“Time is running out,” Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief told a press conference.

“The door is closing fast on us because the pace and the scale of action is simply not yet where it must be.”

The run-up to the 12-day conference — the annual climax to negotiations on climate change — coincided with a welter of warnings that violent events like superstorm Sandy will become commonplace if mitigation efforts fail.

Experts said pledges to mitigate greenhouse gas were falling dramatically short of limiting warming to the UN goal of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

“All of these reports agree that it is much more preferable to act now because it is safer and much less costly than to delay,” said Figueres.

“This is a historic conference of crucial importance,” said Qatar’s conference president, Abdullah al-Attiya.

“We must work seriously in the next two weeks... be flexible and not dwell [on] marginal matters.”

Topping the talks under the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change is the future of the Kyoto Protocol — the world’s only binding pact for curbing carbon emissions.

The protocol, whose first commitment period runs out on Dec 31, currently commits about 40 rich nations and the EU to an average 5% greenhouse gas reduction from 1990 levels. The accord is a touchstone for developing countries and green campaigners.

But critics say it is badly flawed, as it does not include the US and China — the world’s biggest emitters — in the binding targets.

Getting a deal on Kyoto’s future would smooth the way towards a new, global treaty that would be sealed in 2015 and take effect in 2020.

Prospects, though, are soured by discord on how long the next Kyoto commitment period should last and the scope of its carbon pledges.

The EU, Australia, and some small Kyoto parties have said they would take on commitments in a second period, but New Zealand, Canada, Japan, and Russia will not.

“In Doha, governments must agree to the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and close the loopholes that could give countries a free pass to pollute for years,” urged Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace.

“At the end of a year that has seen the impacts of climate change devastate homes and families around the world, the need for action is obvious and urgent.”

Last week, the UN Environmental Programme said the goal of keeping planet warming in check was moving farther out of reach and the world was heading for a 3-5 Celsius (5.4-9 Fahrenheit) rise this century barring urgent action.

The World Bank said a planet that is 4 Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) warmer would see coastal areas inundated and small islands washed away, food production slashed, species eradicated, more frequent heat waves, high-intensity cyclones, and diseases spread to new areas.

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