/ 14 December 2009

Crunch climate talks enter second week

The marathon United Nations climate summit entered its second week on Monday, as environment ministers readied closed-door meetings to hammer out disagreements over a draft agreement to combat global warming.

In the first such concession of its kind, major player China said it had given up its demand for developed countries to fund efforts to fight climate change.

“Financial resources for the efforts of developing countries [to combat climate change are] a legal obligation,” Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei, China’s top negotiator, told the Financial Times on Sunday.

“That does not mean China will take a share — probably not … We do not expect money will flow from the US, UK [and others] to China.”

China has said it plans to curb 2020 emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 40% to 45% from 2005 levels, but had demanded that developed countries provide funding for its climate efforts.

Danish police earlier detained about 200 anti-capitalist protesters who tried to block a section of Copenhagen’s busy port during a demonstration on the sidelines of the talks, a day after the first mass protest of the gathering.

Four dozen environment ministers representing countries with varied economies and interests in the 194-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gathered informally for their first major get-together of the summit on Sunday as the 12-day marathon took a day off.

Meeting under the chairpersonship of former Danish minister Connie Hedegaard, they are tasked with turning a problem-plagued blueprint into a landmark deal on climate change that can be endorsed on Friday by about 120 world leaders.

But in its first six days, negotiators made negligible progress on any of the major issues, stoking fears that the outcome would be a poor fudge.

Penny Wong, Australia’s climate change minister, said Sunday’s talks had been “frank and robust” but noted that “clearly, we have a lot of work ahead”.

French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said there was a widespread desire to ensure that the summit did not end in stalemate and everyone understood what was at stake.

“We don’t want to end up one day regretting that we had an extraordinary opportunity but allowed fear to win the day,” he said.

Taming greenhouse gases
The UNFCCC conference is seen by some commentators as the most important parlay since the end of World War II.

Its goal is nothing less than taming greenhouse gases — the invisible by-product derived mainly from the burning of coal, oil and gas that traps the Sun’s heat and warms Earth’s atmosphere.

Scientists say that without dramatic action within the next decade, Earth will be on course for warming that will inflict drought, flood, storms and rising sea levels, translating into hunger, homelessness and misery for many millions.

But scaling back carbon emissions has become a fierce political issue, pitching rich countries against poor, and opening up divisions within each of those blocs.

To reduce their pollution, countries have to become more energy-efficient or switch to clean renewables, moves that carry a sometimes heavy economic price.

On Saturday, more than 30 000 marchers took to the streets in Copenhagen, capping a day of lobbying by green activists in many cities around the world.

The Copenhagen rally was festive, although sporadic violence broke out on its margins and police made nearly a thousand arrests, triggering charges of maltreatment.

At a vigil outside the city hall, Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu handed a petition signed by half a million people to UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer that called for dramatic action to roll back the threat posed by greenhouse gases.

“This is a problem. If we don’t resolve it, no one is going to survive,” Tutu told a crowd of more than a thousand.

De Boer, meanwhile, warned “there will be huge political fallout if we fail to reach an agreement this week”.

If all goes well, the conference will agree an outline deal of national pledges to curb carbon emissions and set up a mechanism to provide billions of dollars in help for poor countries in the firing line of climate change.

More talks would be needed next year to agree on vital technical details, themselves a political minefield. — AFP