Walkout and tensions heighten fear of failure

The UN climate summit hit major turbulence yesterday when developing nations staged a five-hour walkout and China accused the West of trickery, as the spectre of failure loomed heavily over Copenhagen.

As campaigners warned negotiators had five days to avert climate chaos, ministers admitted they had to start making giant strides before 120 heads of state arrived for the summit’s climax on Friday. But their hopes were hit by the boycott, which only ended after the developing nations secured guarantees on separate Kyoto Protocol talks.

That core emissions-curbing treaty ties rich countries that have ratified it to binding emissions curbs but not developing nations. It does not include the US, which says the protocol is unfair as the binding targets do not apply to developing giants that are already huge emitters of greenhouse gases. A first round of pledges under Kyoto expires in 2012 and poorer nations are seeking a seven-year commitment period. The walkout delivered another blow to a summit already marred by spats between China and the US.

A top Western negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a meeting of environment ministers on Sunday had been soured by “growing tensions” between the US and China.

“At the back of everyone’s mind is the fear of a repeat of the awful scenario in The Hague,” she said, referring to a climate conference in 2000 on completing the rule book for Kyoto that broke up angrily without agreement. In an apparent concession China said it might not take a share of any Western funding for emerging nations to fight climate change. But Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said China would not be the fall guy if there were a fiasco.

“I know people will say if there is no deal that China is to blame. This is a trick played by the developed countries. They have to look at their own position and can’t use China as an excuse,” he told the Financial Times. EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso also voiced fears saying failure would be “unthinkable”. Campaigners were even blunter with Greenpeace saying the summit had five days “to avert climate chaos” and targets so far offered by Western leaders amounted to “peanuts”.

The stakes were underlined when a UN report said some 58 million people have been affected by 245 natural calamities so far this year, more than 90% of them weather events amplified by climate change.


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