Climate talks step up a gear

December 13, 2009 12:00 am

, COPENHAGEN, Dec 13 – Negotiations to forge an epoch-making pact on climate change went behind closed doors on Sunday, with a select group of environment ministers from 48 countries poring over a draft deal.

But the 12-day UN marathon entered its second week amid negligible progress on any of the major issues, stoking fears that the outcome — due to be put to more than 110 world leaders on Friday — would be a poor fudge.

Connie Hedegaard, chairing the talks in Copenhagen, insisted that, compared with a couple of months ago, procedural advances in the first six days had been "fantastic."

"The core discussions… have really started," she said late Saturday.

She added, though: "We still have a daunting task in front of us over the next few days."

The conference under the UN\’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 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 byproduct, 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, or brake their expected growth of it, countries have to become more energy-efficient or switch to clean renewables — and this carries an economic price.

The ministers gathering on Sunday were meeting informally, as the 12-day marathon took a day off.

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 hundreds of arrests, triggering charges of maltreatment.

If all goes well, the 194-nation conference under the UN\’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will wrap up with a historic deal sealed by more than 110 heads of state and government.

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

The draft blueprint under scrutiny has seen the conference split into roughly four groups, each staking out their own interests. Related article: Developing nations slam EU pledge

They are:

— the developing countries, which are demanding stiff, binding curbs in emissions by rich nations, an extension of the UNFCCC\’s Kyoto Protocol, and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to tackle climate change;

— emerging giant economies, which are being pressed to make ambitious (but voluntary) emissions commitments of their own;

— the United States, now rolling back the climate policies of the Bush era, which rejects the Kyoto Protocol and is leading the pressure on the developing giants;

— the European Union (EU), which says it has done the most on emissions pledges and short-term climate finance promises. It baulks at signing up to a new Kyoto round until the US and the developing giants pitch in more.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US pressure group, said the draft text had the merit of being accepted as an arena for negotiations.

"I don\’t think that anyone liked everything in it but most countries like something on it and are willing to accept it as a basis," he told AFP.

Even so, there remained plenty of potential for deadlock, he said.

"It\’s not at all easy and they are going round and round the core issues," said Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a US green group.

"But we\’re not looking at a fiasco," he said. "At the moment, it looks like we will get more and not less than we expected" compared with a couple of months ago.


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