Scene unclear as leaders arrive in Copenhagen for what could be a shaky finish

Publish date: December 15, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

COPENHAGEN – As Tuesday concluded with some of the key leaders here at the climate summit growling at negotiators to “seal a deal,” public optimism began to give way to private fears that in less than 48 hours 117 would leaders would be arriving at a scene of exhausted resignation and a possible flashpoint of protest.

Speaking at the beginning of the high level talks that began here Tuesday evening, and will swing into high gear Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “No-one will get everything they want; but if we work together, then everyone will get what they need.”

In her address to the group, summit President Connie Hedegaard, said, “In these very hours we are balancing between success and failure. Success is within reach. But (…) I must also warn you: We can fail.”

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN’s climate body, told reporters that, “We have – over the last week or so – seen progress in a number of areas, but we haven’t seen enough of it.”

The space crush in the Bella Center negotiating facility is also stoking unrest. The UN accredited 45,000 people for the event, half of which constitute non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but the Bella Center, sprawling though it may be, can only hold 15,000.

NGOs, who have been caught in lines lasting as long as eight hours for two days running are loosing patience. Demonstations are planned both in front of the Bella Center and inside it for Wednesday, Danish police on duty at the facility have told Bellona Web.  

Bellona President Frederic Hauge warned that negotiators are leaving a very difficult task to the heads of state that have already begun to assemble.

The world is still far from an international climate agreement, even on the terms of a lower political framework world leaders defaulted to pursuing instead of a legally binding agreement.  Nine days have produced little beyond acrimony between rich and poor and dramatic boycotts.  

Money has been proposed from many forums, most notably the EU proposal of €7.2 billion annually for three years for a “fast start” programme to help poorer nations start adopting to climate change as soon as 2010. But this funding, say the beneficiaries, is not enough.

The only thing anyone seems to have agreed to so far is the “green fund” put together by Mexico and Norway to supply developing nations with $10 billion a year for three years beginning in 2013. But this is almost precisely the same amount of money proposed by the EU now, but has drawn not of the vituperation by poor naitons that the EU did.

Meanwhile, draft texts for an agreement that were circulated and rejected early on are beginning to be recycled in an apparent effort to do something. Yet the texts change constantly, provoking strong reactions from rich and poor nations alike.

“The negotiating text which should be getting smaller is getting bigger,” said Hauge. He explained that it is not unusual at this stage of negotiations for more and complicating elements to get heaped in, “but the text is now so complex that even the negotiators hardly understand it.”

The current international climate change agreement, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, ends its first commitment period in 2012. The United States never ratified Kyoto because it only forced wealthy countries to reduce emissions. Nations now are locked in a battle over the future of Kyoto, with developing nations insisting that it be retained and the European Union, Japan and others pressing for a new treaty that covers both industrialized and fast-emerging countries.

As such, a two track approach has emerged, one led by Germany and Indonesia to examine further emission cuts by developed nations under Kyoto, and another, chaired by the UK and Ghana, to look at long-term financing to help poorer countries develop along green lines and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The two track approach was adopted as a result of a walk out on Monday led by mostly African nations when they thought their wishes to discuss maintaing Kyoto type emissions quotas were being ignored.

“There are 110 government leaders, and they have to push each other to go further,” said Hauge.

“They cannot leave here with an agreement that does not help us to achieve the required emissions targets. As the situation stands now, that would mean carrying on with a temperature increase of 4 to 5 degrees,” as opposed to the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) maximum of 2 degrees, he said.
There are other big fights happening, as well: to name just two, the controversies over how far wealthy countries are willing to cut back global warming pollution and how much money will be available to help poor countries adapt to climate change and develop clean energy.

UN Secretary General, who, with nearly perpetual optimism, has made the climate the centrepiece of his office, was near a snapping point Tuesday.

“Time is running out. There is no time left for posturing or blaming,” he told reporters before flying to Copenhagen to light some fires.

“If everything is left to leaders to resolve at the last minute, we risk having a weak deal or no deal at all, and this would be a failure of
potentially catastrophic consequence,” he said, according to Greenwire.  

Though Ban refused to discuss the possibility of a collapse in the talks, according to Greenwire, the UN head spoke more cautiously than ever on what he believes the chances of a positive outcome are, rating himself as only “reasonably optimistic” that Copenhagen would succeed, where before he had been unequivocally expecting a new agreement.