DOHA (Reuters) - Developing nations will push next year for a radical U.N. mechanism to compensate them for the impact of climate change, such as droughts or rising sea levels, despite reluctance among wealthy states which would have to foot the bill.
A meeting of almost 200 countries in Qatar in the past week agreed steps towards addressing losses and damage from global warming in what some analysts called a big shift for the United Nations-led talks.
Developed nations fear such a system could be hugely costly for Western governments, most of which are struggling now to cut huge budget deficits. The United States insists any money would have to come from $100 billion in aid already promised from 2020 to help poor countries cope with global warming, delegates said.
Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Programme, warned developing nations against expecting too much of "pretty stressed Western economies".
"In the end, you can't squeeze blood from a stone," she told Reuters at the November 26-December 8 conference in Doha.
Developing nations are nevertheless signalling a big push in 2013. "We look forward to the establishment of the international mechanism next year," Nauru's Foreign Minister Kieren Keke said at the end of the meeting, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
If set up, the new system could help nations to recover from storms that may become more powerful due to climate change. In the Philippines, typhoon Bopha has killed 540 people in the past week.
Many experts point to one of the worst extremes in Grenada, where Hurricane Ivan caused damage in 2004 costing twice the Caribbean island's entire annual economic output.
"Of course it won't ever be big enough to satisfy everyone who comes along and cries," George Prime, Grenada's Environment Minister, said of the likely funds.
"It's not just the cost. An event like that raises your debts and you can't get loans," he told Reuters. "It also takes money away from other spending, like on health and education." Ivan killed 39 people in Grenada.
Until a few years ago, the focus in U.N. talks on climate change was on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from factories, cars and power plants. That shifted in the mid-2000s to include ways to adapt to floods, heatwaves and rising seas.
Now, the push to set up ways to compensate for loss and damage is an admission that there will be changes - such as sea level rise or ocean acidification - that can't be adapted to.
"If an island is gone you can't just adapt to that. It's a complete transformation. With a disappearance of glaciers the water supply is gone. This is going far beyond traditional management," said Juan Pablo Hoffmaister of Bolivia.
"It's a fundamental shift in the way we talk about climate change," said Nick Mabey, chief executive of the London-based E3G think-tank.
AOSIS has proposed a three-part mechanism based on insurance against extreme weather, compensation for creeping problems such as sea-level rise and new efforts to assess risks.
The agreement in Doha, where the main decision was to extend the U.N.'s existing Kyoto Protocol for slowing global warming, is vague. It speaks of setting up new "institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism" in 2013.
It does not mention any new money; delegates say developed nations insisted on leaving that out.
Some advances have been made. Hurricane Ivan led to creation of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, offering insurance of up to $100 million per weather event.
editing by David Stamp