Copenhagen global warming talks suspended over rich-poor divide

Negotiations on a deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off global warming were suspended Monday morning in Copenhagen, with poorer countries charging wealthier nations aren't prepared to make necessary cuts in CO2 emissions.

Anders Debel Hansen/Scanpix/Reuters
Protests continue on Monday as several hundred people participate in a march in Copenhagen, Denmark. The final week of Copenhagen global warming negotiations has begun amid rancor between rich and poor nations.

The final week of Copenhagen global warming negotiations has begun amid rancor between rich and poor nations, with a negotiating bloc of mostly African countries complaining that it looks like any deal will not be tough enough on major emissions producers in the developed world.

The complaints, from the G-77 group of nations that is currently chaired by Sudan, led the Danish hosts to suspend negotiations on Monday morning. Talks are expected to resume in the afternoon on what some are hoping will be a politically binding agreement on curbing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Signs that crunch time is coming emerged over the weekend inside and outside the cavernous Bella Center in Copenhagen, where the talks are being held. Outside, some 40,000 protesters marched on the center on Saturday, calling for immediate action to deal with global warming. The march itself went largely without incident, although police say that additional protests in the city center, away from the negotiating site, led to some 950 arrests. Protesters appeared again on Sunday, leading to an additional 200 arrests.

Inside, the key bone of contention is over whether to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which most industrial nations promised to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, with a more robust agreement that would also include emissions reduction targets for poorer nations. There are also talks to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2013 if a new agreement including all nations isn't signed.

Why talks have become heated more quickly than usual

But because so much hinges on the participation of the US – along with developing countries including India, China, and Brazil – in any new pact, most of the world's focus is on the broader deal. The G-77 charged that industrial countries are angling to replace Kyoto with a deal that will relax their own emissions targets, something that African nations say would be devastating to the climate on their already hot and arid continent.

"We're seeing negotiations get very serious and intense much more quickly than we usually do," says Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, noting that issues are being kicked up to ever higher political levels more quickly than in the past. "This is a testament to the fact that everyone knows this is coming down to firm decisions."

And it all boils down to familiar themes: emissions and money.

"At the end of the day, the overall negotiation [is] a tale of two numbers," says Andrew Deutz, senior policy adviser for UN affairs at The Nature Conservancy and a veteran of the nearly two-decade long process of climate negotiations. "What's the financing package? And what are the emission-reduction numbers?"

Several observers say they are optimistic that so-called quick-start financial aid for developing countries is nearly at hand. At least $10 billion a year would be provided between 2010 and 2012 and be increased beyond that if poorer countries demonstrate they can responsibly spend the money to convert to more efficient power sources and curb their own greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2).

The European Union has vowed to contribute $3.6 billion a year to that effort and Japan has offered some $3.1 billion a year. If the US puts up between $2.5 billion and $3 billion a year, the remaining gap likely would be filled by industrial countries outside the EU.

Money for China?

But building a recipient list has generated sharp exchanges between China and the US.

During a briefing last week, Washington's top negotiator, Todd Stern, dismissed the idea that China would receive international aid to pay for its conversion to cleaner technologies.

"We would intend to direct our public dollars to the neediest countries," he said. "China, to its great credit, has a dynamic economy that is sitting on some $2 trillion of reserves. So we don't think China would be the first candidate for public money."

China's lead negotiator Yu Duingtai told reporters that given Washington's unwillingness to live up to its previous pledges under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, "what they should do is some deep soul-searching."

Long-term financing beyond 2012 is more murky. Aid requirements after 2012 reach more than $100 billion an year -- which would include both donor aid and money raised through carbon-trading.

Developing countries want clear commitments from rich countries and a bigger say in how the aid they receive is managed. Developed countries want to be sure any aid comes with rigorous standards for tracking that money to ensure it's being used for its intended purpose and that results from its use can be verified.

Developed countries are also asking "what are the mitigation packages developing countries are putting on the table that they are asking us to pay for? We need to see those programs. That quid pro quo is the heart of these negotiations," Dr. Deutz says.

A 95 percent cut in 1990-level emissions

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said, in effect, if politcians select as their target a 2-degree rise above preindustrial levels for global average temperatures, rich countries will have to cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by up to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Developing countries would have to reduce their emissions growth-rates substantially below business-as-usual projections.

Here, developing countries are insisting that rich countries continue to make deep emissions cuts. And implicit in the draft text released Friday is an expectation that emissions from major developing countries would peak and begin falling in absolute terms by 2050.

Yet figures on the table from north and south come nowhere near the reductions needed to achieve the 2-degree mark. A new analysis by Climate Interactive, a group of researchers from five institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University in the Boston area, suggests that all of the emission-control offers currently on the table from rich and poor countries alike put the climate on a path to warming of 3.9 degrees C by the end of the century.

"We're really down to a small set of crunch issues," Mr. Schmidt says.

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