Climate talks falter as African countries walk out

Posted: 14 December 2009

The main session of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen was suspended today following protests led by African countries, Reuters reports. The talks later resumed.

The African countries accused developed countries of trying to wreck the existing Kyoto Protocol.

"This is a walk-out over process and form, not a walkout over substance, and that's regrettable," Australian Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said about the action to Reuters.

At a press briefing, UN's climate chief Yvo de Boer said the Presidency of the conference would have informal talks with the negotiating parties in the early afternoon and that the talks would focus on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.

"The vast majority [of countries] want to see a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol," Yvo de Boer said. "This is not just an African concern."

Asked whether he had heard of any countries indicating that they might boycott the conference, Yvo de Boer answered: "I am not aware of any country threatening to block anything."

Drama and confusion

Reporting on Guardian Unlimited, John Vidal said the conference broke up in 'drama and confusion' 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."

'Dirty tactics'

Copenhagen conference demonstration
Copenhagen conference demonstration
Protest march at Copenhagen conference.
Commenting on the Africa Group protest, Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, said:

"The African countries' protest highlights the dirty tactics of rich countries who are trying to stitch up negotiations to their benefit.

"We support the African countries' demands that rich countries must commit to binding targets to cut their emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020.

"Wealthy nations are trying to push for a deal which will leave millions of people in the developing world to face the worst effects of catastrophic climate change.

"The informal consultations which the Danish Presidency has organised at the climate talks between rich countries are underhand and undermine negotiations by excluding most developing countries.

"It is rich countries who have caused climate change and they must take responsibility for cutting their emissions first, rather than trying to ditch the Kyoto Protocol, which enshrines this responsibility in international law.

"Wealthy countries must make stronger commitments on cutting emissions and new money for developing countries if we're to break the logjam in negotiations."

Commenting on the news that British prime minister, Gordon Brown, will travel to Copenhagen tomorrow, two days earlier than planned, Atkins said: "Gordon Brown's early arrival at Copenhagen could be significant - but he must bring a new approach with him if he wants to help secure a strong and fair climate agreement."

Emergency cord

Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director 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.

"This not about blocking the talks - it is about whether rich countries are ready to guarantee action on climate change and the survival or people in Africa and across the world.

"Australia and Japan are crying foul while blocking movement on legally binding emissions reductions for rich countries. This tit for tat approach is no way to deal with the climate crisis."