Key issues on the table at U.N. climate talks


Climate negotiators will gather in Warsaw next week armed with just the haziest outlines of a new U.N. pact on global warming. The main issues facing the conference:

Shape of 2015 accord: In 2011, U.N. members agreed to conclude by 2015 a new deal that would limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Taking effect from 2020, it would bind all countries to targets for reducing greenhouse gases.

But fundamental questions remain unanswered. They include how nations should make their pledges; how to judge if these commitments will meet the 2-degree goal, whether countries should be penalized for noncompliance and whether the deal should be a treaty or some other legal form. Also unsettled is whether to retain a special status for poorer countries, which are least to blame for global warming but doomed to suffer most from its effects.

Finance: At the 2009 Copenhagen summit, rich nations undertook to “mobilizing jointly” $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poorer countries cope with climate change. Funding would come from a wide range of sources, public and private.

Developing countries say they need about another $60 billion by 2015 to deal with an increase in droughts, floods, rising seas and storms.

Climate damage: New and divisive, this issue entails covering loss and damage suffered by poor countries from climate change, and possibly building an insurance mechanism for future losses. The issue nearly scuppered last year’s U.N. negotiations in Doha, Qatar, with countries led by the United States fearing an open-ended liability for compensation.

Consensus: Another hotly contested issue, with repercussions that can go beyond the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Decisions at a UNFCCC plenary, known as a Conference of the Parties, are typically approved on the basis of “consensus,” a fuzzy notion that implies common resolve but not unanimity. Russia is incensed at the way the chairman of last year’s meeting in Doha gavelled through a decision to extend the Kyoto Protocol on climate change despite Moscow’s opposition.