20th May 2019

Climate talks almost derailed by bad faith between rich and poor

UN climate talks in Copenhagen were briefly suspended on Monday (14 December) as anger bubbled over among developing nations, which accused their richer counterparts of trying to "kill off" the Kyoto Protocol.

There are two tracks of negotiations under way in Copenhagen: One is on a new series of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol for all rich countries apart from the US (which never ratified it), and the other is on longer-term action covering the US and the wealthier emerging nations.

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  • Young girl at Greenpeace protest in Copenhagen (Photo:

The Kyoto Protocol track is the only one with a mechanism for legally binding emissions reductions by the global north and for channeling funds to the south.

The north wants to kill off Kyoto in order to avoid all discussion at the moment of a legally binding agreement, according to its critics. Its poorer counterparts want to keep it alive because a legally binding agreement is in their interest.

The poorer nations, gathered together in a grouping that calls itself the G77-plus-China group of countries - actually numbering 130 in total - on Monday broke off negotiations for some three hours in total.

The walkout came after a number of wealthy countries, notably Japan, Australia and Russia, said on the weekend that there should be a single document coming out of the Copenhagen talks, which would mean the end of the Kyoto Protocol.

According to a source close to the discussions, the developing nations decided: "If you're not willing to play in our sandbox, we won't play in yours."

Behind the scenes, the EU and Japan are seen as the main actors trying to kill off the protocol. The Danish hosts of the summit came in for particular opprobrium when the G77 announced its decision to suspend participation.

"It has become clear that the Danish presidency - in the most undemocratic fashion - is advancing the interests of the developed countries at the expense of ...developing countries," G77 chief negotiator Lumumba Di-Aping told the BBC.

Jeremy Hobbs, the head of Oxfam International, said: "Africa has pulled the emergency cord to avoid a train crash at the end of the week. Poor countries want to see an outcome which guarantees sharp emissions reductions yet rich countries are trying to delay discussions on the only mechanism we have to deliver this – the Kyoto Protocol."

Adding fuel to the fire, the Danish chair of the UN meeting and future EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard on Sunday held a meeting outside the confines of the UN process with a select group of 48 environment ministers to discuss mitigation targets and fast-track funding.

Many of those at the meeting were developed nations, but a selection of poorer nations such as Mexico and Costa Rica were also invited. The latter group were called "regionally representative" but are in fact the more pliant members of the developing world camp.

Some poorer states fear that the global north's talk of some €10 billion in annual "fast-track" funding is an attempt to avoid much more expensive long-term financing.

They accuse the EU and other rich countries of divide-and-rule tactics, offering cash now to needy countries in return for lower emissions cut obligations and vague language on future climate financing.

The UK tried to act as a peacemaker, while still backing the rich-country position that the Copenhagen summit move beyond Kyoto.

"I'm sympathetic to the developing country view that they don't want the Kyoto track to be ended before we have new legal instruments in place," British environment minister Ed Miliband told reporters. He added that Kyoto is not enough because "it would be irresponsible for the climate" to not include the US in any final deal, however.

After a three-hour suspension and frantic talks between Ms Hedegaard, the G77 and other nations, the parties came to an agreement that talks on both tracks - Kyoto and the longer-term track - would continue.

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