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Climate Concerns> Opinion
UPDATED: December 31, 2009 NO. 1 JANUARY 7, 2010
Clashing Over the Climate
At the Copenhagen climate change summit, poor nations challenge Western domination



Is the glass half empty or half full? As the year 2009 approached its end, the leaders of developing countries who attended the UN summit on climate left the Danish capital of Copenhagen with this question constantly nagging in their minds.

At the end of the Copenhagen climate talks that continued for about two weeks, developing nations seemed relatively satisfied with the final outcome, but not all of them. Those from Africa and small island nations declared it was nothing but another empty promise.

"[It's] the lowest level of ambition in terms of emissions reductions imaginable," the Sudanese envoy, Lumumba Di-Aping, who chaired the G77 group of developing countries plus China, told reporters at the end of the summit. "[It's] a climate change denial in action."

The deal became final at the last minute on December 19 after U.S. President Barack Obama met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, South African President Jacob Zuma and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Di-Aping accused the U.S. and Danish governments of "superimposing a deal on the rest of the world," but eventually went along with the rest, amid hopes that a real deal on climate change was more likely to be signed through further negotiations.


FOR A FINAL DEAL: Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva chats with South African President Jacob Zuma at the Copenhagen climate change conference on December 18, 2009, when the participating countries failed to reach an agreement by the scheduled deadline (WU WEI) 

In early December, during the first round of talks, delegates from African nations walked out of talks in protest against what they described as "undemocratic" behavior by the president of the conference, who held private meetings with the representatives of rich Western nations to shape the summit's outcome.

Delegates from the emerging economic giants in the developing world, such as China, Brazil, India and South Africa, also joined that boycott for a few hours. Those representing the G77 and China charged that Western nations were conspiring behind the scenes to derail the summit agenda.

The five-hour suspension came after the summit president seemed to lead talks in the direction of canceling the Kyoto Protocol, which limits carbon emissions by rich nations. The 1997 agreement does not put limits on carbon emissions by developing countries.

Developing nations want to extend the Kyoto Protocol—the only treaty that currently commits industrialized nations to reduce emissions responsible for global warming. But that approach does not have the support of rich countries, particularly the United States.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern told reporters in Copenhagen on December 9, "We are not going to become part of the Kyoto Protocol, so that's not on the table."

"If you mean basically taking the Kyoto Protocol and putting a new title on it, we're not going to do that either...We're not going to Kyoto, and we're not going to do something that's Kyoto with another name," said Stern.

But under immense pressure from developing countries, which enjoyed strong support from China, the United States and other industrialized countries changed their stance toward the end. The accord signed by 194 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) now confirms the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.

According to the agreement, developed countries will provide $30 billion in new, additional funding for developing countries in the next three years. It also says developed countries support a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion a year by 2020.

The Copenhagen Accord, however, does not specify precisely where this money would come from. It has set a target of limiting global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times—seen as a vital step in dealing with more floods, droughts, mudslides, sandstorms and rising seas.

"This basically is a letter of intent ... the ingredients of an architecture that can respond to the long-term challenge of climate change, but not in precise legal terms. That means we have a lot of work to do on the long road to Mexico," said Yvo de Boer, the top UN climate official.

Another round of climate negotiations is due to take place in Mexico in November 2010. At stake is a proposed deal to fight global warming and promote a cleaner world economy. Negotiators are hoping they will be able to create a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Holding high moral ground

Despite having signed the Copenhagen agreement, many delegates from the developing world expressed great disappointment at the final outcome and held the United States and other industrial nations as chiefly responsible for failing to create a legally binding treaty.

Toward the end of the summit, Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, Chair of the Least Developed Countries' Group, said, "1.5 degrees are non-negotiable—more than that means death to Africa. It will cause unmanageable consequences."

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