Climate Talks in Limbo As Violence Erupts

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 16 (UPI) — U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen were threatened from within and without Wednesday just two days before U.S. President Barack Obama and more than 100 other world leaders are expected to agree to a new treaty to stop global warming.

Firing tear gas and wielding batons, Danish police arrested around 230 demonstrators trying to enter the conference venue as negotiations inside remained deadlocked.

The first of more than 100 world leaders — including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and such controversial figures as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe — had spoken here Wednesday, and with them arrived hope that they can turn around the deadlocked summit by brokering a fair, ambitious and binding climate-protection treaty.

But as of Wednesday, there was no deal in sight.

“The talks are in crisis. We are very concerned about the direction these talks are taking,” said David Turnball, head of Climate Action Network International, which represents 500 groups in 75 countries promoting solutions of climate crisis. Turnball said he expects world leaders “to take leadership to bring us out of this crisis.”

A key stumbling block is financing. Poor countries need between $100 billion and $200 billion a year to cope with climate change, and it remains unclear how that money will be raised.

Rich and developing nations are also rowing over the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto requires rich nations that adopted it — the United States didn’t — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but spares developing nations. They want to extend Kyoto beyond its 2012 expiration alongside a second-track, longer-term agreement. The major industrialized countries, however, favor a single new treaty requiring all nations to participate.

The G77 developing nations group plus China believe that this would lead to a weak outcome.

Sudan’s assistant president, Nafie Ali Nafie, said developing nations would oppose any agreement that “in any way results in the Kyoto Protocol being superseded or made redundant.”

Meanwhile outside, Danish riot police clashed with thousands of environmental activists who marched toward the Bella Center from a nearby train station and demanded entry. But police fought them back, and also pushed back inside conference participants trying to meet up with the demonstrators.

Inside, the president of the summit, Denmark’s Connie Hedegaard, stepped down in favor of Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. Hedegaard, who will continue as a special representative to Rasmussen, said this was a normal procedure to pay tribute to the arrival of world leaders. But her presidency has been criticized by poorest nations who feel they have been marginalized in the negotiations.

Rasmussen, the new conference president, urged representatives from more than 190 countries to lay differences aside and instead get down to work.

“The world is actually expecting us to reach some kind of agreement on climate change, not just continue discussing procedures, procedures,” he said, visibly angry.

Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official, said the next 24 hours “are absolutely crucial and need to be used productively.”

Experts had hoped for the United States to drive negotiations forward, but Washington has rejected demands that it curb emissions more than its current pledge of 17 percent from 2005 levels.

“We need a very different pasture from the United States,” said Jim Leap of WWF International. “U.S. negotiators over the last few days have descended into legal wrangling over technical points that have bogged down negotiations.”

U.S. officials did show a strong presence here in Copenhagen, with Al Gore and Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking in the past few days, and most senior Cabinet members. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to arrive in the wee morning hours, and President Obama will address the summit on Friday.

Sen. John Kerry came to Copenhagen to deliver a speech Wednesday only to hurry away hours later to be back in Washington to vote on healthcare legislation Thursday in Congress. During his stint in Copenhagen, he urged negotiators to “make Friday a success.”

“Success in Copenhagen is really critical to success next year in the U.S. Senate and in the Congress,” Kerry said in reference to a key climate and energy bill currently stalled in Congress.

Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, urged world leaders not to play poker with the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

“We are issuing a death warrant to small island states and least developed countries if we do not deliver a fair ambitious and legally binding treaty by the end of this summit,” he said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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