Gridlock threatens to doom COP15

by and

COPENHAGEN — U.N. negotiators at the COP15 conference worked through the night Tuesday, increasingly desperate to reach agreement before more than 120 world leaders gather Thursday night and Friday and following an official warning that the stalemated negotiations could doom the conference.

As of Wednesday, despite hints some countries were compromising on secondary issues, there was no progress on the contentious matters, including greenhouse gas emission targets and financial contributions from developed states to the developing world to halt climate change.

Nongovernmental organizations warned that COP15 was in danger of collapsing, and criticized the United States for delaying negotiations Tuesday night by insisting on deviating from U.N.-mandated scientific conclusions on what mitigation actions are necessary between 2012 and 2020 to prevent the worst effects of global warming. Such conclusions were part of the Bali road map to the Copenhagen conference that the U.S. agreed to in 2007.

Small groups of protesters appeared inside and outside the center Wednesday, with police detaining or arresting dozens outside by midmorning.

The demonstrations were planned in advance and security was extremely tight, with access by NGOs greatly restricted over the conference’s remaining three days.

U.N. officials were visibly grim at a formal ceremony Tuesday evening to welcome high-level ministers, who are supposed to finalize an accord to present to world leaders within two days. Connie Hedegaard, president of COP15, warned the conference’s failure was now possible.

“We spent too much time on posturing, on repeating positions and on formalities. Success is still within reach. But as COP15 president, I must also warn you: We can fail,” she said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told delegates that $10 billion annually for climate change mitigation in the poorest countries, a figure supported by major developed nations, was a good start but not enough. Despite opposition in many countries to stringent emissions reduction targets, all sides had to agree to stronger action on greenhouse gas emissions, he added.

“I understand every leader coming to Copenhagen faces domestic pressures and politics. I also know the legitimate concerns of the most vulnerable remain. Ambition levels are not sufficient and $10 billion annually will not solve all our problems,” Ban said.

One of the main sticking points on financing is which developing countries should receive financial assistance. U.S. officials have stressed they would refuse to provide China with funds. On Tuesday, China said the world’s poorest and most vulnerable should be prioritized, a sign Beijing may agree to U.S. demands that funding target small island states in the Pacific or African nations threatened by global warming, rather than large, industrialized developing countries such as itself.

Japan’s funding pledge for short- and long-term climate change is also being closely watched. Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa confirmed Tuesday that Japan will offer $10 billion over the next three years to assist developing countries. The government previously said it would pay around $9.2 billion, plus a bit extra, to cover three years.

Ozawa also met Tuesday with ministers from Grenada, Mexico, Algeria and Nigeria. Those nations, he said, agreed with Japan’s position that continuing the Kyoto Protocol without the participation of the U.S. and China, the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases but not signatories of the 1997 protocol, was not an option. But Ozawa added they preferred to continue the Kyoto Protocol rather than forge a new agreement.

NGOs said they are expecting more engagement from Japan and expect Tokyo and the EU to take the initiative on midterm financing until 2020 to break the deadlock over the issue.

“This negotiation is in deep crisis at the moment and it’s unclear where it is heading,” said Martin Kaiser, a Greenpeace representative who met Wednesday morning with Ozawa and Tetsuro Fukuyama, deputy foreign minister.

“We are calling on (Prime Minister Yukio) Hatoyama and other heads of (state) to break the gridlock,” he said.

Kaiser said Japan should show more flexibility to keep the Kyoto Protocol as a safety net, while insisting the U.S. join in a legally binding second protocol at the end of COP15.