Climate talks resume: Africa forces binding emission reductions back on table

Delegates in the plenary hall on Friday.

Delegates in the plenary hall on Friday.

COPENHAGEN–Developing countries refused to allow climate talks to continue here today until organizers agreed to emphasize legally binding commitments by developed nations to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution.

Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard, the president of the UN Climate Change Conference, had called an informal session for Monday morning on some of the most difficult issues facing the 192 nations assembled here: emission-reduction levels for each nation and financing for developing nations. But the talks never got underway.

African nations prevented the session by refusing to participate, because one of their key demands–legally binding emissions requirements for developed nations–did not appear on the agenda. They were supported by the G-77 nations and China, a group that, despite its name, represents 130 developing nations.

“It is climate code red right now, we are in code red right now, we stand at the crossroads of either hope for Africa or hope dashed in Hopenhagen,” a Nigerian delegate, Victor Ayodeji Fodeke, told Agence France-Presse this morning.

While the main session was halted, the major parties disappeared behind closed doors to resolve the issue. Late this afternoon, European Union negotiators confirmed the rift had been overcome, and the talks should resume as scheduled tomorrow afternoon. They scolded the delegates who blocked the talks.

“The worst thing is to block discussions,” said Andreas Carlgren, the Swedish environment minister. “We are–not just in this conference but in this world– running out of time.”

Developing nations want any Copenhagen accord to include an extension of the 1998 Kyoto Protocol, which sets legally binding emissions requirements for developed nations except the United States, which agreed to the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it.

Some developed nations, including Japan and Australia, are seeking to replace Kyoto with a comprehensive new agreement that would include the U.S. But because Kyoto is the only legally binding agreement on the table here, any comprehensive new agreement would only be “politically binding,” unless it is made legally binding at a future gathering.

The two positions are characterized as two tracks in the negotiations, the Kyoto track and the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track. This morning’s agenda had only included the LCA track. Following today’s events, talks will continue under both tracks.

“We hope this blocking behavior, which is maybe part of the theater game, can be overcome before the leaders arrive,” said Josef Leinen, representative of the European Parliament. World leaders begin arriving Tuesday night to participate in the final three days of negotiations.

The developing nations have the sympathy of Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, which organizes the UN’s ongoing efforts to combat climate change.

“The vast majority [of countries] want to see a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol,” de Boer said. “This is not just an African concern.”

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