World governments meeting in Poland this week and until 22 November are likely to make only modest progress in reaching a 2015 deal to fight climate change, with concern over economic growth at least partially eclipsing scientists' warnings of rising temperatures.
The Philippine delegate at UN climate talks began a fast on Monday in protest at a lack of action on global warming that he blamed for fuelling a super typhoon that has killed an estimated 10,000 people in his country.
Fast for climate action
Delegates from almost 200 nations held three minutes' silence to mourn victims of typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, at the start of Nov. 11-22 talks to plan a UN deal in 2015 to slow climate change.
"I will voluntarily refrain from eating food (during the conference) until a meaningful outcome is in sight," Naderev Sano, the Philippines' Climate Commissioner, said of the devastation of Haiyan that, he noted, had left many hungry.
In line with many developing nations, he urged far tougher action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, led by the rich, and more funds to help the poor cope with the impacts of climate change, including a new mechanism for loss and damage.
"We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life," he said, his voice choking with emotion. He won a standing ovation.
Many developed nations, however, are more concerned about their sluggish economies than taking radical steps on climate change. The United States and the European Union reaffirmed what they said were ambitious climate goals for 2020 that developing countries say fall far short of what is needed.
Emerging economies led by China, the top greenhouse gas emitter, and India say that rich countries must do more to cut emissions and allow developing nations to burn more fossil fuels to end poverty.
Climate scientists are usually reluctant to link greenhouse gases and single extreme events like a cyclone.
Krishna Kumar Kanikicharla, a senior author for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the overall number of tropical cyclones may decline this century but such weather systems may get stronger. "Wind speed and the precipitation is likely to increase," he added.
No grand expectations
"We can't expect a grand agreement that solves the problems in one fell swoop," said Elliot Diringer, executive director of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a US think-tank.
The best hope, he said, was for a 2015 accord in which countries would agree limits on emissions of greenhouse gases with a mechanism to compare and strengthen them over time.
The outline of a deal, to be discussed by negotiators in Warsaw, is emerging that will not halt a creeping rise in temperatures but might be a guide for tougher measures in later years.
Environmentalists warned about the dangers of delaying action to avert more floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels.
They point to super typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 10,000 people in the Philippines last week, as a reminder of the risks of extreme weather. A UN scientific panel says cyclones may become more intense in some regions by 2100 as the planet warms.
Global average temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution and are set to exceed 2C – a target ceiling agreed at a previous UN summit – on current trends, despite a hiatus in the pace of warming so far this century.
In September, the UN panel of climate experts raised the probability that mankind is the main cause of recent warming to 95% or "extremely likely" from 90% "very likely".
The World Meteorological Organization said this month atmospheric volumes of greenhouse gases reached a new record in 2012, driven up by growth in emerging economies led by China.
$100 billion aid
Developed nations are putting most emphasis on spurring economic growth after the financial crisis, rather than making big investments in renewable energies such as wind or solar power. Economic slowdown has – at least temporarily – cut greenhouse gas emissions in many nations.
The US shale boom helped push US carbon emissions to an 18-year low last year, but also shifted cheap, polluting coal into Europe where it is used in power stations.
Many governments, especially in Europe, are concerned climate policies, such as generous support for renewables, push up energy bills for consumers, a major political issue in countries such as Britain.
The Warsaw meeting will also seek ways to raise aid to help developing nations cope with climate change. They have been promised $100 billion a year by 2020, from $10 billion a year from 2010-12.
On Monday, aid charity Oxfam estimated that climate aid totalled between $7.6 billion and $16.3 billion in 2013, but said "murky accounting and a lack of transparency by rich countries" made it hard to know.
Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief, said Warsaw was a "pivotal moment" when it was still possible to limit rising temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial times. "Global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak this decade," she said.