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EU states in downturn think twice on climate fund

  European Union member states hit by the global economic crisis urged the bloc on Thursday not to promise the developing world more money to combat climate change than they can afford.

The comments could worry organizers of a conference in Copenhagen on finding a successor to the Kyoto protocol against global warming because its success hangs on whether enough money can be found to persuade poor nations to tackle the problem.

EU member states including Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary fear EU negotiators will commit them to providing more money than they can now afford because of the economic downturn.

“We should readjust the priorities,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev told reporters at a summit at which EU leaders were discussing the climate issue and looming recession. “What really concerns EU citizens today is how jobs will be preserved and how we can keep Europe steady in this unprecedented crisis.”

Polish and Bulgarian officials said they wanted more precise details of how the burden would be shared before the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

“Obviously the enthusiasm for having economic support for the climate package has not increased during the economic crisis,” said Cecilia Malmstrøm, EU affairs minister of Sweden, which will hold the EU presidency during the Copenhagen talks. “That is an issue that is of great concern to us.”


Poor countries blame industrialized nations for climate change and say they do not do enough to help the poor adapt to its impact, such as by creating drought- or flood-resistant crops, or helping build barriers to rising sea levels.

“The EU will have to pay the bill for its historical emissions -- this means committing to provide at least €30 billion per year by 2020 to an international climate fund for developing countries,” said politician Rebecca Harms of the German Green group.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters informal discussions had focused on an annual EU contribution of between €20 billion and 40 billion. He said Warsaw would oppose any attempt to divide that burden up according to countries’ emissions levels -- a move that would hurt Poland as it relies on heavily-polluting coal.

The east European states fear a repeat of their problem last year when the EU committed to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2020. They recognized the potential impact on their economies too late to steer the debate.

Central and eastern Europe countries are trying to stop an evaporation of foreign funds that prompted Hungary and Latvia to seek a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund and contributed to social unrest.

Some experts see the Copenhagen conference as the last chance to keep global warming in check. UN climate chief Yvo de Boer this week criticized European finance ministers for not living up to promises made at the launch of the two-year process in Bali in 2007.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged his European counterparts not to put the brakes on funding. “I would very much like to see the EU in the driver’s seat. We have to send a clear message that we are going to take on a fair share of the global financial burden,” he said. (Reuters)