Climate talks seek calm after fury

December 9, 2009 12:00 am

, COPENHAGEN, Dec 9  – Negotiators at the UN climate marathon tried to steer into calmer waters on Wednesday after developing countries blasted an early draft accord as favouring rich carbon emitters and sidelining the poor.

"We should stay on course, we need a legally binding outcome that has strong content that preserves the planet and protects the most vulnerable," Dessima Williams, representing the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) badly threatened by climate change, told AFP.

"That\’s our agenda, that\’s our mandate, everything else is distraction."

A European official, requesting anonymity, said: "It caused an upset, but we hope the dust is going to settle and we can get down to business."

The conference – due to climax on December 18 with more 110 world leaders in the grandstand – was just a day old when the controversy erupted.

A leaked draft of an early preliminary text, proposed by conference chair Denmark, unleashed charges from poorer nations, green groups and aid activists that it had been cooked up in private talks and was skewed in favour of advanced economies.

The text is a "serious violation that threatens the success of the Copenhagen negotiating process," declared Sudan\’s Lumumba Stanislas Dia Ping, who heads the Group of 77 bloc of developing countries.

He said poorer nations would not boycott the talks.

"The G77 members will not walk out of this negotiation at this late hour because we can\’t afford a failure in Copenhagen," he told journalists.

"However, we will not sign an unequitable deal. We can\’t accept a deal that condemns 80 percent of the world population to further suffering and injustice."

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer and Denmark tried to ease the row, insisting the text – apparently circulated to a chosen nation or group of nations – was informal and simply aimed at sounding out opinion among parties.

Several delegates told AFP on Wednesday that they were angry that an 11-day-old text – badly out of date, given the fast-moving pace of the climate negotiations – had caused such a kerfuffle.

"It\’s caused a lot of anger among developing countries who fear they are not being included in the informal process," said the European source.

But in reality, "it\’s a storm in a teacup, it\’s a text that was dredged up from 11 days ago and was covered by the media at the time."

Another delegate said: "It\’s an interesting sign of how far some delegations will go to undermine Denmark\’s efforts to get an ambitious deal."

Even so, the controversy highlighted the tension and stakes at the December 7-18 parlay, which aims at nothing less than lancing the threat posed by global warming and setting the world on a safer, low-carbon future.

If all goes well, the 194 nations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will secure a political deal spelling out national pledges for curbing heat-trapping carbon emissions, also called greenhouse gases.

Over the past 250 years, atmospheric concentrations of these invisible, odourless, tasteless gases have risen, propelled by the unbridled use of coal, oil and gas.

In tandem, atmospheric temperatures have surged in the last quarter-century, inflicting damage to glaciers and snowfall.

Scientists fear far worse is to come this century, in the form of drought, flood, storms and rising seas that will threaten tens of millions, as warming disrupts the delicate mechanism of Earth\’s climate system.

Underpinning the debate is the question of national sacrifice.

"Fossil" fuels are cheap and plentiful and constitute the backbone of the world\’s energy supply today. So reining in their use carries an economic cost, in better energy efficiency or a switch to cleaner, renewable sources.

The envisioned December 18 accord will also pump hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to poor countries, providing them with newer technology and the means to toughen their defences against the impact of climate change.

Further talks would be needed, probably throughout 2010, to fill in the details of the skeletal agreement. The hope is to usher in a new planetary-wide agreement from 2013, smoothly handover from the expiration of commitments under the UNFCCC\’s Kyoto Protocol.


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