Climate compensation row at Doha

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Frustration at slow progress of the UN climate talks bubbled over when a spokesman for small island states (AOSIS) rounded on rich nations.

US representative Jonathan Pershing had been discussing plans to compensate poor nations for losses due to damage from climate change.

But AOSIS spokesman Ronald Jumeau condemned wealthy countries for their lack of urgency.

The UN talks are into their second week in the Qatari capital.

Mr Jumeau said that there would be no need for talk about compensation if the rich had cut their emissions in previous meetings.

"The Doha caravan seems to be lost in the sand," he told a joint news conference. "As far as ambition is concerned, we are lost.

"We're past the mitigation (emissions cuts) and adaptation eras. We're now right into the era of loss and damage. What's next after that? Destruction? Disappearance of some of our islands?

"We're already into the era of re-location. But after loss and damage there will be mass re-locations if we continue with this loss of ambition."

The issue of compensation for climate losses looks set to become a major focus for negotiations at the conference.

The task of the meeting is to wind up negotiations under talks associated with the existing Kyoto Protocol on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, and move towards a new treaty in 2015 binding all nations, rich and poor in tackling climate change.

Developing countries are attempting to bolt down as many commitments as possible and they sense that there may be some movement on a new mechanism for loss and damage.

The idea is being backed in a petition to governments by 44 NGOs representing millions of people concerned about the impacts of climate change. It has been led by Care.

"The first and foremost response must be to immediately and dramatically cut emissions and help vulnerable countries and ecosystems adapt to new climate realities, " it says. "Governments must now also recognize that we are in a "third era" and redress the permanent loss and damage from climate impacts.

"Given historic inaction by developed countries we are heading for the biggest social injustice of our time."

They urge governments to establish a formal mechanism for loss and damage (the word "compensation" is being avoided; some nations, including the US won't countenance it because of the implication of guilt). They also want the UN to monitor and assess losses, and to find new approaches for addressing loss and damage, particularly for slow-onset events like, say, sea level rise.

Nick Mabey from the think-tank E3G told BBC News it was useful that the issue of long-term risk might become embedded in the negotiations. There were costs, he said, to avoiding action to cut emissions:

"The debate on loss and damage brings an important new dimension to the climate negotiations. The costs of failing to reduce climate risk must be internalised in the negotiations or agreement will be reached merely by lowering ambition for mitigation ."

"With a truly global agreement now possible in 2015, countries must now decide how much climate risk they are willing to take and what they are willing to do to reduce their exposure."

Mr Jumeau, from the Seychelles, went out of his way to praise the UK for its leadership on climate change, especially for its re-stated pledges of increased finance to help poor nations get clean energy - £1.8bn by 2015.

Germany followed by promising to increase its contributions further.

A spokesman for the UK delegation told BBC News: "The UK is still taking part in important negotiations around loss and damage. So far, we have indentified a number of areas where parties agree and we are working hard to find common agreement on the way forward."

Back in the UK, the Chancellor George Osborne was facing complaints from some Conservatives that money was going on climate finance when budgets were being cut for services in Britain.

His gas strategy, published alongside the Autumn Statement, confirms that he wants to review and maybe scrap the UK's unilateral targets on reducing emissions.

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