Time Running out for Key Climate Deal

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 15 (UPI) — Time is running out for an ambitious climate protection deal because of a gridlock between rich and poor nations at a crucial U.N. summit in Denmark.

The second week of negotiations is in full swing in Copenhagen, with weekend demonstrations and Monday negotiations turning ugly. A day after police clashed with protesters on the icy streets of Copenhagen, representatives from 123 developing countries walked out on negotiations Monday, prompting a five-hour suspension of the talks. Poor nations said they fear that developed economies are trying to water down their emissions reduction commitments by burying the existing global warming treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

This delayed the negotiations.

“Ministers have to be extremely busy and focused over the next 48 hours if we want to make this summit a success,” Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister presiding over the summit, said Tuesday.

Danish and U.N. negotiators worked all night to bring the gridlocked parties together. Poor nations returned to the negotiations table only after they were promised separate talks on a continuation of Kyoto. However, developing countries remained suspicious Tuesday, observers said.

The row comes as time for a binding deal is running out: On Tuesday, the first heads of states arrived before the summit’s much-awaited climax later this week, when more than 110 world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, converge on the packed Bella Center to “seal the deal” by late Friday.

But until that happens, several issues have to be resolved — a big one is who should pay how much, and when, in climate change mitigation money to poor countries.

While members of the European Union and other countries pledged to hand short-term cash to poor nations hit hard by climate change, nothing much has been achieved on long-term aid, Hedegaard said.

Developing nations have asked for as much as $200 billion per year and disagree with rich nations on how to manage the funds.

“We need to come up with some innovative ideas,” to raise that money, she said. In an upbeat message, a senior Chinese official told the BBC that China would not need a “single dollar” of that money.

But the clock is ticking louder as time for a strong agreement is running out.

Hedegaard Monday and Tuesday urged environment ministers to take over from lower-level negotiators and resolve some of the toughest differences before the high-level segment starts Wednesday.

“We actually managed to get ministers down to work,” she said, adding they had done so “until deep into the night.”

The real negotiations take off over the next 48 hours, when Hedegaard will summon ministers again and again in informal negotiations.

“There’s a lot of work still ahead … and the parties’ positions are pretty far apart,” Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, said Tuesday.

More than 100 world leaders are expected in Denmark this week to try to broker a climate-protection deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012.

Officials hope the deal will include binding carbon dioxide emissions reduction commitments from the world’s major emitters — including the United States, India and China — as well as dozens of billions of dollars in financial aid to poor nations.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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