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Riot in Copenhagen, heat on squabbling leaders

A group of young singing climate activists, irked at the latest UN draft to secure the Earth’s future, regaled delegates who stopped to have their pictures taken with the merry band before hurrying in from the cold outside to diplomatic frostiness inside on Saturday morning, report Samar Halarnkar and Chetan Chauhan. Full Coverage

world Updated: Dec 13, 2009 01:22 IST

On the sixth day in Denmark the UN gave to me, forests converted crap MRV (emissions verification) too much fossil fuels trees chainsawed no strings attached and a big fat logging subsidy”.

A group of young singing climate activists, irked at the latest UN draft to secure the Earth’s future, regaled delegates who stopped to have their pictures taken with the merry band before hurrying in from the cold outside to diplomatic frostiness inside on Saturday morning.

By evening, the frustration had turned to anger as a crowd of anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 mainly young people shut down central Copenhagen and young men in black hoods smashed shop windows. Riot police moved in swiftly and arrested at least 300 people.

With a week for the climate summit to end, the split between the developing and developed world became sharper at Saturday’s plenary as ministers of the world’s nations started to arrive for a crucial second week of climate talks.

Saturday’s key issue was a draft on long-term action issued by a UN working group.

Sweden led the developed world in saying the text did move beyond the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and was “not acceptable” (India too had an issue with a clause in the draft), with Brazil leading the developing world in saying the spirit of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol must stay.

The theme of the Kyoto Protocol, which took eight years to come into force — global emissions have rised by 30 per cent since then — was that developed countries cut their emission and pay developing countries enough money to adopt
cleaner technologies.

Countries lined up on either side of the rich-poor divide with spokespersons giving staid two- or three-minute addresses. India infused some drama with Environment Secretary Vijai Sharma holding up a wooden box to the assembly.

“This is the box that held the sake I drank from at Kyoto on December 3, 1997,”said Sharma. “It is one of the most important treaties, the unambiguous standing of the Kyoto Protocal must be further strengthened.”

While every country acknowledged progress on the finer details of technology, finance and deforestation, the Swedish spokesperson summed up the stand of the developed world: “It is Saturday and half of this historic meeting is already
behind us. The EU is committed to keeping the temperature (of the Earth) below 2 deg C...let me be frank; the text gave us too little uncertainty that we will stay below 2 deg C.”

To put that in perspective, the earth’s atmosphere now has a concentration of 430 parts per million of greenhouse gases warming the earth. Unchecked, the projections say, it will reach 1300 ppm by 2100, enough to ensure a 50 per cent probability of a 5 deg C rise, the consequences being widespread drought, floods and extreme weather in the realm of science fiction.

The Swedish spokesperson said the UN draft was vague on firm laws and verification of emissions of developing nations and only a “radical or new approach” could ensure a breaththrough. The Brazilian spokesperson said adherence to the Kyoto
Protocol was “critical” to G-77, the group of developing countries.

While India lined up behind the developing world, it too found a devil in the latest draft. Environment and Forest minister Jairam Ramesh, who arrived here on Friday, said its reference to a peaking year — when emissions reach their maximum — was
not acceptable to India.

“We agree to a 2 degree C global aspiration (of limiting temperature rise), but it should be an equitable burden sharing,” Ramesh told reporters on Friday, reiterating that he had come to Copenhagen for being a “deal maker”, not a “deal breaker”.

Indian negotiators also objected to mention of “mitigation and adaptation” efforts with the focus on “avoidance of damange” to least developed countries and small island nations. That would mean that countries like India and China will have to cut emissions, rather than stay with emission intensity cuts, which allow them to increase emissions but reduce their rate.

Observers expect more friction as the heavyweights get down to business next week.

China, the world’s biggest polluter, made clear its displeasure late on Friday to comments made earlier by US climate envoy Todd Stern — under pressure from domestic US politics to stand firm — that the Asian giant would “certainly not” get public funds from the US towards climate-change mitigation when “it sits on some $2 trillion in reserves”.

“I think he (Stern) lacks common sense,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters at the sprawling Bella Convention Centre, where a lazily whirling windmill is powering negotiations between 192 countries. “Either lack of
common sense of extremely irresponsible.”

Both the US and China have been at loggerheads through the week, as indeed have the West and the developing world, as indeed have the island nations and Africa against the more advanced developing nations like India and China.

Apart from the sticky issue of who will cut emissions by how much, money is the key issue in attempts to move towards a global climate deal: Who will pay, how much and to whom. The developing world would like money transfers to their exchequers while the EU talks of some handouts and the rest through market mechanisms, from carbon bonds to taxes.

UN climate change chief Yvo de Boer lauded an European Union decision on Friday to pay $10 billion over the next three years to fund climate-change efforts. That’s not even close.

China has said the West must pay $400 billion a year to help developing countries reduce emissions; the EU has said $150 billion should do it, the US isn’t even mentioning a figure, and depending which economist you ask, the figure runs to $40
trillion a year by 2100. The value of the world economy today: $50 trillion.

Stand firms up

• India, China, South Africa and Brazil on Friday conceded an African view that a greater share of money from the rich countries be made available to the world’s least developed nations.

• This papers over the cracks in the developing world at Copenhagen and there is now a unified stand by the G-77 group of countries.