COPENHAGEN // Climate talks ground to a halt yesterday in spite of pleas for action from world leaders, as poorer countries locked shields to oppose a unilateral draft for a new agreement. A fight over procedure quickly snowballed into a larger conflict over the fairness of the Copenhagen process, as developing countries voiced suspicion that richer nations were trying to control the outcome of a new climate agreement through an opaque system.
Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, added fuel to the fire with a rambling speech that charged the talks as being "not democratic, not inclusive". The climate talks, which end on Friday, centre on two key issues in the fight against global warming: assuring the future of the existing Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire in 2012, and crafting a new treaty that will replace the protocol with stricter limits on emissions.
Little progress has been made on either question in nine days of negotiations, in large part because developed and developing countries remain divided over how much responsibility each side should bear for difficult emissions cuts. The freewheeling nature of the talks yesterday was further exacerbated by demonstrations from within the Bella Center, the site of the conference, as registered attendees broke out in loud chants just a hundred metres from where world leaders spoke, and thousands of demonstrators outside the centre tried to force their way in.
Denmark, which proposed the draft agreement outside the normal process to jump-start a compromise yesterday, heatedly disputed allegations that it was trying to subvert the negotiating process. "I think the world is expecting us to reach some agreement on climate change, and not just talking about procedure, procedure," said Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark. "It is not our intent to put any text on the table from the sky."
Although the text itself was not released by the late afternoon, it dominated the debate at the conference, and delayed the start of remarks by heads of state. Poorer countries, led by China and Brazil, said Denmark's move illustrated their long-running contention that they were being shut out of back-room deals that will determine key questions of a future agreement on reducing carbon emissions.
Poorer nations are also concerned that their richer counterparts are seeking to dissolve the Kyoto Protocol, which only applies emissions requirements to developed countries, in favour of a new agreement that would extend the burden of cuts to poorer countries. These concerns led 130 developing countries to walk out of the talks on Monday, suspending negotiations for several hours. The G-77 group of poor nations and China want the Kyoto Protocol to be extended past the 2012 deadline as negotiators work for a replacement agreement, said Nafie Ali Nafie, the assistant president of Sudan and the Chairman of G77 delegation. "We will oppose an agreement in Copenhagen which in any way results in the Kyoto Protocol being dismantled or made redundant," he said.
An official draft agreement published yesterday showed how far apart the two sides remain on key questions of a new treaty. The draft showed negotiators debating whether to try to hold global warming to one or two degrees Celsius, and requiring developed countries to cut emissions by between 50 and 95 per cent by 2050. The goals set out in the draft venture into the realm of the absurd: one ambitious proposal calls for developed countries to reduce emissions by 100 per cent by 2040.