Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hundreds arrested as climate talks sour

With world leaders arriving for final talks, police clash with protesters

COPENHAGEN – Gloom has started turning to doom here at a climate change summit where failure is becoming the expectation and breakthrough would be the surprise outcome.

At a grand opening ceremony, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Britain's Prince Charles and Danish Prime Minister Lars Rokke Rasmussen warned countries that compromise must pave their path if a climate agreement is to be signed by Friday.

Outside the conference centre, Danish police fired pepper spray and beat protesters with batons as hundreds of protesters tried to disrupt the conference. Police said 230 protesters were detained.

Connie Hedegaard, the former Danish climate minister, resigned the conference presidency to allow Rasmussen to take the reins of the meeting as world leaders began arriving. Hedegaard was to continue overseeing closed-door negotiations.

Meanwhile, officials from a select group of 48 countries were still waiting Wednesday for a draft text for them to negotiate – leaving little time for officials to reach agreement for world leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to sign when they arrive.

"Obviously, this is of concern," Environment Minister Jim Prentice said according to The Canadian Press. He said he didn't know what the hold-up was.

And as the conference rolled into its 11th day, there was yet another dismal signal. This one came from Ban Ki Moon himself.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he warned the critical issue of securing long-term funding of hundreds of billions of dollars each year past 2013 may not be resolved when leaders fly out of the Danish capital. Developing countries want at least $100-billion a year, and negotiators for some have said that price tag should be many multiples higher.

"I'm not quite sure," he said when asked if the financing deal would be found here.

"I don't think the exact number itself should be all of this Copenhagen deal. There are many important issues. If they are not able to agree this time at Copenhagen, then there needs to be some initial arrangement."

"We can start next year discussing this matter," Ban said.

The article had barely landed on newsstands when word started circulating of a proposal backed by four countries including Britain that would see a mix of funding from the coffers of rich governments and private capital to raise $100-billion annually through to 2020.

The big problem, said one veteran of these climate conferences with a long-term view of the matter, was that even if the money arrived there is almost no capacity in the developing world to spend such a sum of cash to adapt to climate change and offset future emissions through clean energy projects.

Such is the state of play here in Copenhagen. Hope rises, then it comes crashing down again.

Negotiators looking at the future of the Kyoto Protocol, one of the two tracks of bargaining that is underway, worked into the early morning hours of Wednesday to come up with a draft agreement they could hand off to political ministers in the hope their decision-making authority could punch through the impasse.

By about 3 a.m., they gave up and vowed to start again after a few hours sleep.

Still, nations continued to speak of success as world leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe began arriving in Copenhagen. One hundred and fifteen heads of state and government are coming here to seal the deal.

"In a sense, it's sad that (negotiators) have been unable to come up with a text by this date in time," said Mohamed Nasheed, president of Maldives, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean.

"We cannot now afford to be bogged down in the process. In my mind we need to move forward."

In Washington, a spokesman for U.S. President Barack Obama said he still believed a successful outcome – a political agreement on the main issues, though not a legally binding treaty – was still possible.

"The president believes that we can get an operational agreement that makes sense in Copenhagen," Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

John Drexhage, climate change director with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said the talks are in such disarray that negotiators have set up a scenario where their presidents and prime ministers will be arriving here to essentially save the world from the climate damage that all countries say is coming and all say they want to prevent.

"That's all that's left."



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