African protest hits U.N. climate talks in final week

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A protest by African nations accusing rich countries of doing too little to cut greenhouse gas emissions slowed U.N. climate talks on Monday just four days before world leaders are due to forge a deal in Copenhagen.

After a five-hour standoff, the African nations let talks restart after assurances their objections would be heard. They accused the rich of trying to kill off the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges many industrialized nations to cut emissions until 2012.

“We’re talking again,” said Kemal Djemouai, an Algerian official who leads the group of African nations at the December 7-18 meeting. Talks on a pact to succeed Kyoto have been sluggish since they started two years ago in Bali, Indonesia.

But negotiators have scant time to reach a new U.N. deal to fight global warming at a summit of 110 world leaders on Friday, shifting the world economy from fossil fuels in a bid to avert heatwaves, floods, mudslides or rising sea levels.

In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama was working this week to help advance the Copenhagen talks ahead of his visit for the summit.

And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said developing countries such as China and India would have to do their part to reach a climate accord. China is the top greenhouse gas emitter ahead of the United States.

After overcoming the African objections in Copenhagen, negotiators on Monday appointed pairs of ministers from poor and rich nations to seek solutions to the most contentious issues ahead of the summit.

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Ghana and Britain would examine ways to raise billions of dollars in new funds to help the poor, Grenada and Spain would look at disputes about sharing out the burden of emissions cuts by 2020. Singapore and Norway would look at a possible levy on bunker fuels to help raise funds.

Despite the huge amount of work ahead, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said: “The desire will be that nothing is booted upstairs,” for Obama and other world leaders to hash out when they arrive in Copenhagen.

Earlier, African delegates said that the rich were trying ditch the Kyoto Protocol, which binds almost 40 industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.


Australian Climate Minister Penny Wong accused the African nations of staging a “walkout” and said it was “not the time for procedural games” so close to the end of the meeting, for which 35,000 people are registered.

At the heart of the dispute, developing nations want to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and work out a separate new deal for the poor. But most rich nations want to merge Kyoto into a single new accord obliging all nations to fight global warming.

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Industrialized nations want a single track largely because the United States never ratified Kyoto. They fear signing up for a binding new Kyoto while Washington slips away with a less strict regime [nLDE5BD1DU].

In a sign of the impacts of warming, a report by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said world sea levels could rise by up to 2 meters by 2100, with worrying signs of a thaw in Antarctica.

“It is now estimated that sea levels will rise between 0.5 and 1.5 meters by 2100, and in the worst case by 2.0 meters. This will affect many hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas,” they said in a report.

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Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed said that it may be too late to help low-lying island states. “If all the developed nations stop their emissions today, and if we take business as usual, we will still drown,” he said.

And a group of activists dressed as polar bears staged a protest urging the talks to “save the humans.”

Differing from the African nations, a senior Chinese envoy said that developing nations’ top concern was to secure funds from the rich to pay for carbon emissions cuts and cover the cost of adapting to a warmer world [nLDE5BD1I3].

“If you list them in order of priorities, the most pressing issues where developing countries want to see results are: firstly finance, secondly emissions reduction targets, third technology transfer,” He Yafei, China’s deputy foreign minister, told Reuters.

Many world leaders will turn up early to try to bridge the gaps. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown would travel to Copenhagen on Tuesday, his office said.

Brown hopes to meet Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi before other leaders begin arriving.

Organizers said the formal start of the intensive, high-level stage of talks in Copenhagen would be held on Tuesday evening (1630 GMT), when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address an opening ceremony.

(With extra reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison, Gerard Wynn, Richard Cowan, Sunanda Creagh, Writing by Alister Doyle; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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