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Climate Deal Failure Could Devastate World's Poor, IPCC Chief Says

Exclusive interview: Science provides "compelling logic" for decisive progress at UN climate talks, Pachauri says

By Stacy Feldman

Dec 5, 2010

CANCUN, MEXICO -- Further delay in international action to slow warming would endanger vast numbers of lives in the world's poorest countries, but Cancun can still deliver decisive progress to help avert disaster, the head of the UN climate science panel said.

In an interview with SolveClimate News, Rajendra Pachauri said he "would think" that the Nov. 29 to Dec. 10 negotiations taking place in the Mexican resort would achieve at least some success toward a new climate pact.

"I have every reason to believe — given the compelling logic that science provides — that negotiators will see the need for moving ahead quickly with us," he said on the sidelines of the talks.

"We really need to take action."

But at the crucial midway point in the 194-nation meeting, a rich-poor divide still dogs negotiations, observers say, failing to dispel fears that talks could end in deadlock.

Countries on both sides of the battle have attacked a designed to break the logjam on key issues, including saving carbon-absorbing rainforests and transferring clean technologies. 

Among concerns listed by wealthy states are the weak carbon-cutting commitments expected of emerging economies, like China and India. The poorest countries reject the draft document's goal to restrict global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, demanding that temperatures be held to a 1.5 degree rise.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, president of the climate meeting, told negotiators on Sunday that compromise is still possible.

"One week into the process, the conditions are in place to reach a broad and balanced package of decisions that leads to an era of increasingly effective global action on climate change," she said.

"I believe we can complete the package, or at the very least to make significant advances, before the opening of the high-level segment on Tuesday afternoon."

Poorest to Suffer from Political Inaction

With raised voices and emotional appeals, several developing nations pleaded on Sunday for progress on the shape of a new treaty.

"How many conferences can we have without concrete action?" asked a negotiator from Colombia, whose country is currently enduring record floods that have killed some 175 people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes.

"We have to think of the tragedies caused by failing to curb emissions," she said to cheers and applause.

A by Pachauri's Nobel Prize-winning (IPCC) found that runaway emissions threaten to increase the frequency of  flooding and droughts and reduce farm output in the poorest countries.

"In Africa, for instance, as early as 2020, we could have anywhere from 75 to 250 million people living under conditions of water stress," Pachauri said.

"These are societies that just don't have the income levels to be able to import food," he continued. "If they're not able to produce enough for themselves, then that clearly has a very harmful and negative impact."

Pachauri said warming is already making natural disasters worse. He pointed to the "terrible cyclone" in Myanmar in 2008 that killed more than 100,000 people as a harbinger of things to come on our planet.

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