G77 walks out of climate talks
Danish hosts rush to repair rift as G77 delegate claims scrapping Kyoto would mean ‘killing of Africa’
John Vidal and Suzanne Goldenberg in Copenhagen
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 December 2009 13.37 GMT
One of the two negotiating tracks at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen broke up in drama and confusion today when the Africa group of countries followed by other developing countries accused the chair of the conference of trying to "kill" the Kyoto protocol. They were also objecting to what they characterised as efforts to sideline the poorest countries.
The crisis was then exacerbated after Australia said that rich countries should suspend talks about emission cuts.
The UN and the chair of the conference, Denmark, tried hurriedly to repair the rifts as ministers began to arrive in Copenhagen for the high level political section of the talks. But after the talks were suspended for two hours, observers said that it looked increasingly unlikely that an ambitious deal would now be negotiated by Friday.
Earlier today ], it was confirmed that the prime minister, Gordon Brown, will fly to Copenhagen tomorrow, two days earlier than planned.
Brown’s spokesman denied the change was due to concerns that the negotiations lacked momentum. "The prime minister has re-prioritised his diary this week to ensure that he can put the time that is required into shaping the next few days," said the spokesman. "He is not seeking to push himself forward but he has taken a personal view that it is important that, if world leaders can, they should get there early."
In the next two days he will meet other leaders who have brought forward their arrival at Copenhagen, including prime ministers Kevin Rudd of Australia, Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.
The confrontation in Copenhagen began when the Africa group called a press conference in the Bella centre. Seven countries, led by Algeria and including South Africa and Nigeria, said that rich countries were trying to collapse the Kyoto protocol.
This followed moves by Japan, Australia and other rich countries at the weekend who argued that a new single treaty had to be presented to heads of state to be signed.
Developing countries fear that rich nations will ensure that a new treaty will not place strict and legally binding commitments on the developed countries to cut their emissions, unlike the Kyoto protocol.
Victor Fodeke, head of the Nigerian special climate change unit, said any attempt to remove the Kyoto track would be disastrous for the talks. "Africa is on death row. It has been sidelined by some countries. If there is any attempt to remove one of the tracks of negotiations, then it’s obvious the train will crash."
"This is of paramount importance. We cannot, we can never accept the killing of the Kyoto protocol. It will mean the killing of Africa," said another spokesman for the group.
"Right now we are going to lose everything. In one or two days they will tell us that we don’t have the time to deal with Kyoto protocol issues." said Maria Mbengashe, adviser to the South African minister of the environment.
The extreme sensitivity of the Kyoto issue had been raised earlier by the UK climate change minister, Ed Miliband, who said today, "I am sympathetic to developing countries that they do not want the Kyoto track to be ended before new instruments are in place."
Later, in a fast moving series of meetings between Connie Hedegaard, the Danish climate minister, the G77 and other countries, provisional agreement was reached to continue the talks on two tracks.
"The developing countries have won this round," Lumumba Di-Aping, chief negotiator of the G77 (a group of 130 developing nations) told the Guardian. "Two texts will be presented to heads of state to sign. We won because Africa and other countries stood up."
Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN talks, said that countries would now go into an open-ended "conversation". "If we try to end the Kyoto protocol now or in the next year, then we face the risk of no second commitment period for 35% of the emissions," he said.