Lidy 2 December 7 2012

By Roger Harrabin, Environment analyst, Doha, Qatar

Details have emerged of a deal to solve the "hot air" row undermining the EU in the UN climate change talks in Doha.

The term refers to unused, tradeable carbon emission permits given to Eastern European nations.

They are among a number of issues that threaten to stall progress at the talks, due to end on Friday evening.

Poland had been reluctant to give up its permits; the EU has now said the country can keep them, but has put strict limits on their sale.

Each potential buyer – and there are only four – may buy no more than 2.5% of Poland's quota. The eligible countries have said they won't buy the permits anyway.

The compromise still will not be enough to satisfy developing countries who want hot air permits scrapped altogether.

As the talks in Doha lurch listlessly towards their close, hot air is just one of the outstanding issues unresolved.

The others involve finance and compensation for damages caused by climate change.

It now looks likely that negotiations will run through the night, and maybe into Saturday.

In a frosty exchange, the Qatari president of the talks was asked by the EU representative to break up the plenary session to allow countries to sort out disputes in small groups.

The talks' leader, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, said: "I can sit here all year. You decide when to leave."

As politicians delay, scientists continue to warn of ever-increasing greenhouse gases.

But this conference – the 18th Conference of the Parties, or COP18 – will not prevent any CO2 being released into the atmosphere – that will be left to future meetings.

The Doha talks represent the hinge point between the existing UN system – the 15-year-old Kyoto protocol – and a future system to be settled by 2015.

The Kyoto protocol binds a dwindling number of rich nations into cutting emissions and helping poor nations get clean energy and adapt to climate change. The new system, championed by the US and others, will oblige rich and poor to share the burden.

Hot-air rush

The transition has drawn all the world's nations into a negotiation of swirling diplomatic complexity.

Of the outstanding issues, finance is the most intractable. Rich nations promised at 2009's turbulent climate summit in Copenhagen – COP15 – to mobilise a fund of $100bn annually by 2020 to help developing nations cope with climate change. But there's precious little indication of how, or indeed if, this figure will be met.

Some EU countries have offered interim funding but the US has been unwilling to commit. US campaigners here have said they are ashamed of their leaders, especially after President Obama appeared to re-kindle his enthusiasm for tackling climate change after re-election.

The finance issue overlaps another conference dispute over a proposed Loss and Damage Mechanism to compensate developing for damage from any future disasters caused by climatic events, although the C-word – compensation – is being avoided because of the implication of guilt.

'Get a grip'

Meanwhile, pressure is growing for a dramatic gesture from the host country, Qatar, which has the highest per-capita carbon emissions in the world.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the conference on Tuesday at the invitation of the host country. NGOs had been led to believe that gas-rich Qatar would pledge to cut its emissions and help poor nations do the same. But in the end the announcement heralded plans for a Qatari institute for climate studies.

"This is welcome," UK climate minister Greg Barker told BBC News. "It's helpful to get new climate science from all sorts of different voices. But we are really looking for more leadership from Arab nations at this time."

The talks are a foment of rumour, and some say China has leaned on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to avoid financial pledges until the last minute, 2015, in order to stave off pressure for China to make contributions too.

The Lebanese youth campaigner Wael Hmaidan, from Climate Action Network, told BBC News that young people in the region expected Qatar and other wealthy Arab nations to do much more.

"We know what climate change will do to the human situation on the planet – we need to show what we are going to do about this.

"Arab nations haven't yet made decisions on this. The Qatari presidency really needs to get a grip of this process."

The president of the conference, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, told BBC News that he had tried in vain to create a joint Arab position on climate. "I want us to move together on climate change but I can't get consensus on this."

Lidy Nacpil, director of the Asia/Pacific branch of NGO network Jubilee South, called on delegates to reject the negotiating texts: "We are a million miles from where we need to be to even have a small chance of preventing runaway climate change," she said.

Ms Nacpil is based in the Philippines which is currently experiencing devastation as a result of Typhoon Bopha.

"We cannot go back to our countries and tell them that we allowed this to happen, that we condemned our own future. We cannot go back to the Philippines, to our dead, to our homeless, to our outrage, and tell them that we accepted this."

She puts the blame for failure on rich nations, especially Canada and Japan which refused to sign up to a new interim commitment for the Kyoto Protocol.

Asad Rehman, for Friends of the Earth International, also dismissed the European Union's offers as "an empty shell, an insult to our futures. There is literally no point in countries signing up to this sham of a deal, which will lock the planet in to many more years of inaction."

Published in BBC.