Reaching a final global warming treaty will be impossible this year, but the principles of a deal must be settled at a conference in December, the U.N.'s top climate official said Wednesday.
"Time is running out," said Yvo de Boer, the secretary-general of the U.N. climate change secretariat. "We do not have another year to sit on our hands. The deal must be done in Copenhagen."
De Boer said the key to reaching an accord during the December conference in the Danish capital would be for wealthy countries to offer a financial package to help poorer countries adapt to inevitable climate changes and to shift toward low-carbon technologies for energy and development.
He called on the European Union, whose leaders begin a two-day summit Thursday in Brussels, to declare the EU's financial contribution, which he said would push developing countries to announce their own program for limiting the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
"Money is the oil that encourages commitments and drives action," de Boer said in a conference call with reporters from his office in Bonn, Germany.
At least $10 billion (⁈llion) should be earmarked for developing countries immediately, he said. He welcomed a call by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for Europe to offer ⁈lion ($15 billion) in upfront financing.
Eventually, hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent annually to avert scientific predictions of potentially catastrophic changes in sea levels, weather patterns and water resources.
Negotiators meet next week in Barcelona, Spain, for a final five-day session before the Copenhagen meeting opens Dec. 7. The Copenhagen talks are meant to conclude an intense two-year negotiating process over how industrial countries and developing nations will cooperate to control man-made carbon emissions.
"It is physically impossible to finalize all the details of a treaty in Copenhagen," de Boer said. But the Copenhagen meeting must agree on the "political essentials that make a long-term response to climate change clear, possible, realistic and well-defined."
The finer points of a treaty should be concluded within one year, he said, so that it is ready to take effect in 2012, when parts of the Kyoto Protocol expire. The Kyoto accord, signed in 1997 in Japan, took eight years to finish and ratify and required 37 industrial nations to cut carbon emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. The United States rejected Kyoto as unfair and harmful to the U.S. economy.
De Boer listed four critical elements of a Copenhagen agreement: emission reduction targets for industrial countries, commitments by developing countries to slow emissions growth, funding for poor countries and creating an institution to manage those funds.
U.N. scientists say the world's total carbon emissions should peak within five to 10 years and then rapidly decline to avert the worst consequences of climate change.
Developing countries, blaming the industrial world for creating the problem by pumping fossil fuel emissions into the air for 150 years, demand the wealthy countries trim emissions by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 to 95 percent by mid-century.
So far, pledges by industrial countries fall short of the minimum goal of a 25 percent cut by 2020.