Environment ministers were warned of the dire consequences of failure to reach a deal as they gathered for their first major meeting of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen. Meanwhile, Danish police detained around 200 people at a new demonstration.
AFP - Environment ministers haggled behind closed doors in their first major get-together of the UN climate summit, as they were warned Sunday of the catastrophic consequences of failure to reach a deal.
Danish police detained around 200 protesters at another demonstration on the sidelines of the talks, a day after the first mass protest of the gathering.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told AFP he was "cautiously optimistic" on the outcome as he flew into Copenhagen ahead of a raft of world leaders for the final days of the conference.
"We have to wait until the end of the conference to see how serious a message (the conference) is going to send," he said.
Sunday's informal meeting gathered four dozen environment ministers representing countries with varied economies and interests in the 194-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Meeting under the chairmanship of former Danish minister Connie Hedegaard, they are tasked with turning a problem-plagued blueprint into a landmark deal on climate change that can be endorsed on Friday by about 120 world leaders.
But in its first six days, negotiators made negligible progress on any of the major issues, stoking fears that the outcome would be a poor fudge.
Hedegaard insisted that, compared with a couple of months ago, procedural advances in the first six days had been "fantastic."
She added, though: "We still have a daunting task in front of us over the next few days."
The UNFCCC conference is seen by some commentators as the most important parlay since the end of World War II.
Its goal is nothing less than taming greenhouse gases -- the invisible byproduct, derived mainly from the burning of coal, oil and gas, that traps the Sun's heat and warms Earth's atmosphere.
Scientists say that without dramatic action within the next decade, Earth will be on course for warming that will inflict drought, flood, storms and rising sea levels, translating into hunger, homelessness and misery for many millions.
But scaling back carbon emissions has become a fierce political issue, pitching rich countries against poor, and opening up divisions within each of those blocs.
To reduce their pollution, or brake their expected growth of it, countries have to become more energy-efficient or switch to clean renewables -- and this carries an economic price.
The ministers gathering on Sunday were meeting informally, as the 12-day marathon took a day off.
On Saturday, more than 30,000 marchers took to the streets in Copenhagen, capping a day of lobbying by green activists in many cities around the world.
The Copenhagen rally was festive, although sporadic violence broke out on its margins and police made nearly a thousand arrests, triggering charges of maltreatment.
In a fresh protest Sunday, police detained around 200 anti-capitalist demonstrators as they tried to block a section of Copenhagen's busy port.
Many of those held at the protest, called by Climate Action Justice, had already been detained at Saturday's rally and then released.
At a vigil outside city hall, Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu handed a petition signed by half a million people to UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer, which called for dramatic action to roll back the threat posed by greenhouse gases.
"This is a problem. If we don't resolve it, no-one is going to survive," Tutu told a crowd of more than a thousand.
De Boer warned in comments to AFP: "There will be huge political fallout if we fail to reach an agreement this week."
If all goes well, the conference will agree an outline deal of national pledges to curb carbon emissions and set up a mechanism to provide billions of dollars in help for poor countries in the firing line of climate change.
More talks would be needed next year to agree on vital technical details, which themselves are a political minefield.
The draft blueprint under scrutiny has seen the conference split into roughly four groups, each staking out their own interests.
-- the developing countries, which are demanding stiff, binding curbs in emissions by rich nations, an extension of the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol, and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to tackle climate change;
-- emerging giant economies, which are being pressed to make ambitious (but voluntary) emissions commitments of their own;
-- the United States, now rolling back the climate policies of the Bush era, which rejects the Kyoto Protocol and is leading the pressure on the developing giants;
-- the European Union (EU), which says it has done the most on emissions pledges and short-term climate finance promises. It baulks at signing up to a new Kyoto round until the US and the developing giants pitch in more.
Date created : 2009-12-13