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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Climate deal meets furious reception

 Shaun Tandon  |  AFP

Fury erupted Saturday at a gruelling climate summit as poor nations ripped into a deal agreed by a core group of world leaders which even its supporters admitted would not stem global warming

US President Barack Obama said he reached an "unprecedented breakthrough" in meetings with about two dozen presidents and prime ministers gathered in Copenhagen in the finale of a long-anticipated, 12-day summit.

But Obama admitted the so-called Copenhagen Accord did not go far enough. The deal puts off specific goals for cutting carbon emissions blamed for global warming which scientists warn will put entire species at risk if unchecked.

Hours after Obama and other key leaders flew home, delegates from 194 nations spent a full night without sleep to debate the text -- which met a raucous response from several developing states.

Venezuela's representative Claudia Salerno Caldera held up what appeared to be a bloody palm, saying that she had cut her hand in an effort to gain attention as her nation was excluded from US-led, closed-door talks.

"You are going to endorse this coup d'etat against the United Nations," she said as an all-night session approached dawn on its 13th day.

Ian Fry of Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific island whose very existence is threatened by climate change, said the agreement amounted to Biblical betrayal.

"It looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future," he said to applause in the chamber.

But the tone of the debate suddenly changed as Sudan's outspoken delegate Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping, who chairs a bloc of poor nations, said the pact meant "incineration" for Africa and likened it to the Holocaust.

The pact "is a solution based on values, the very same values in our opinion that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces," Dia-ping said.

His remarks set off outrage among many other nations. And even some developing states signalled they would part ways and support an imperfect agreement.

President Mohamed Nasheed of Maldives, the Indian Ocean archipelago that fears being swept up by rising sea levels, said he was unhappy with the deal but that it could eventually bring "a fruitful conclusion."

"I beg all nations," he said, "do not let these talks collapse."

The agreement set a commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), but did not spell out the important stepping stones -- global emissions targets for 2020 or 2050 -- for getting there.

Nor did it spell out a year by which emissions should peak, a demand made by rich countries that was fiercely opposed by China, or insist on tough compliance mechanisms to ensure nations honoured their promises.

Somewhat more successfully, it spelt out some details for how poor countries should be financially aided to shore up their defences against rising seas, water stress, floods and storms.

Rich countries pledged to commit 30 billion dollars in "short-track" finance for the 2010-2012 period, including 11 billion from Japan, 10.6 billion from the European Union and 3.6 billion dollars from the United States.

They also set a goal of "jointly mobilising" 100 billion dollars by 2020, although details were sketchy.

The US president said before leaving Copenhagen that what had been billed as one of the most important summits since World War II would be the starting gun for a much stronger effort to combat global warming.

"Today we have made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen," Obama told reporters.

"For the first time in history, all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change."

He added: "Going forward, we are going to have to build on the momentum we have achieved here in Copenhagen. We have come a long way but we have much further to go."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will host the next climate summit in mid-2010, admitted she viewed the result "with mixed emotions" but added that "the only alternative to the agreement would have been a failure."

The deal was hammered out in talks between Obama and the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa as well as key European countries.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said talks had been close to collapse on seven occasions, but were ultimately saved by sharp deal-making in which Obama played a lead role.

China had bristled at anything called "verification" of its plan to cut the intensity of its carbon emissions, seeing it as an infringement of sovereignty and saying that rich nations bore primary responsibility for global warming.

Disagreements between the China and United States -- the world's No. 1 and 2 carbon polluters -- had been at the core of the divisions holding up a deal.

The agreement was met with dismay by campaigners, who said it was weak, non-binding and sold out the poor.

Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, calling the outcome "an abject failure".