Copenhagen negotiations collapse in the morning, resume by evening after hours of clock watching

Publish date: December 13, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

COPENHAGEN – Connie Hedegaard, the president of the UN climate summit has urged delegates to "get to work" after protests from developing nations forced a suspension in talks of several hours, and negotiators returned to the table Monday evening after a day of tense divisions

As might have been predicted by the morning mood in Copenhagen’s Bella Center negotiation facility, climate talks were brought to an abrupt halt as African nations with China, India and others walked out on talks when their demand that rich countries commit to deeper emissions was not met.

The walk-out disrupted efforts to forge a pact on global warming, delaying the frantic work of negotiators who are trying to resolve technical issues before more than 110 world leaders arrive in Copenhagen later in the week.

The stop in negotiations appeared aimed at shifting the focus of the UN climate talks to the responsibilities of industrial countries and making greenhouse gas emission cuts the first item for the leaders to discuss.

But delegates were brought back together in the Bella Center’s enormous Tycho Brahe negotiation chamber once Hedegaard granted the demand that separate talks on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol be held.

Andreas Carlgren, the European Union environment spokesman, told reporters both rich and poor nations “found a reasonable solution.”

We are really prepared to discuss all issues in the negotiations. It means also absolutely all issues under the Kyoto Protocol,” Carlgren said.

Representatives from developing countries – a bloc of 135 nations forming the G77 group of developing – had earlier refused to participate in any formal working groups at the 192-nation summit until the Kyoto issue was resolved. They have said that Kyoto should be extended beyond 2012 and that wealthy nations commit to emissions cuts.

The G77, which represents poorer nations in Africa with the help of wealthier South East Asian nations like China and South Korea, have frequently flashed their power to collapse talks unless some variant of Kyoto caps were included in the final negotiating document. The nations represent those that are already taking the brunt of climate change.

Richer nations have been quicker to suggest since talks started here last Monday that the Copenhagen negotiations – originally conceived to develop a replacement treaty to Kyoto – dump the Kyoto Protocol altogether and craft a completely new agreement. Russia has been especially adamant about this as a condition for signing any agreement here, as Russia is sitting on some €30 billion to €45 billion in carbon credits that can be applied for its own future industrial needs or sold.

Hedegaard of Denmark had been accused earlier in the day by G77 chief negotiator, Lumbaba Di-Aping of Sudan, of violating democratic practices.

“It has become clear that the Danish presidency – in the most undemocratic fashion – is advancing the interests of the developed countries at the expense of the balance of obligations between developed and developing countries,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme.

But Hedegaard, who takes the post of European Union Climate Commissioner after Copenhagen, said she had repeatedly told developing countries that Kyoto was not being shoved of with the trash.

They have been assured all the way,” she told the BBC. “Yesterday I met with 48 delegations, the main part of those coming from G77 countries. I consulted with them on the way forward today, and I heard no objections, she said.  

“That’s why it’s a bit surprising that we had to spend almost one day on these procedural issues.”  

An African delegate said developing countries decided to block the negotiations at a meeting hours before the conference was to resume. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was held behind closed doors. He said applause broke out every time China, India or another country supported the proposal to stall the talks.

Signs of the rift began to appear early in the day as UK Climate Secretary Ed Miliband cited as one of the messes that still needed be urgently addressed was whether or not to continue Kyoto type caps.

Developing nations have been arguing for a “twin track” approach, whereby countries with existing targets under the Kyoto Protocol – all developed nations except the US – stay under that umbrella, with the US and major developing economies making their carbon pledges under a new protocol.

Miliband told reporters that he and his counterparts in Copenhagen planned to help bridge that gap between rich and poor countries and “not to leave everything” to the world leaders.

“There are still difficult issues of process and substance that we have to overcome in the coming days,” Miliband said. “Can we get the emission cuts we need? We need higher ambition from others and we will be pushing for that.”

Other countries are trying to patch the rift as well. The White House on Monday announced a new programme drawing funds from international partners to spend $350 million over five years to give developing nations clean energy technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming, the Associated Press reported.

The programme will distribute solar power alternatives for homes, including sun-powered lanterns, supply cleaner equipment and appliances and work to develop renewable energy systems in the world’s poorer nations.

The US share of the programme will amount to $85 million with the remainder coming from Australia, Britain, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, the White House said in a statement.