More than 100 nations back tougher climate goals

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - More than half the countries at 192-nation U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen back far tougher goals for limiting global warming than those favored by rich nations, a group of small island states said on Monday.

Security personnel stand near a sculpture of a globe outside the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen December 10, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

The group, which says rising sea levels could wipe them off the map, complained that a 5-meter (15ft) globe hanging in the Copenhagen conference center omits many island states such as in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean.

Dessima Williams, head of the 43-member alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said more than 100 nations had signed up for a goal of limiting rises in temperatures to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, up from 86 in August.

“Half of the United Nations is calling for ambitious and specific targets,” Williams, of Grenada, told a news conference at the December 7-18 meeting among 192 nations trying to work out a new treaty to succeed the U.N.s Kyoto Protocol.

The least developed nations, mostly in Africa, and small island states all support the 1.5 Celsius goal that would require cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by rich nations of at least 45 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Any deal in Copenhagen will have to be agreed by unanimity. The depth of greenhouse gas cuts by the rich and the amount of funds on offer to help the poor are among major obstacles to a deal in Copenhagen.

Most developed nations and leading emerging economies, led by China and India, back a goal of limiting warming to a maximum 2 Celsius over pre-industrial times. Temperatures have already risen by 0.7 Celsius and are set to rise further.

“We are living on the front lines of climate change,” Williams said, adding that AOSIS wanted a legally binding treaty from Copenhagen rather than a mere political declaration favored by many developed nations.

Even with current warming, she said many islands were suffering “significant damage, some are going under the sea, some are losing their fresh water supply.” Some coral reefs were getting damaged by rising temperatures.

She dismissed suggestions of splits between the developing nations’ group amid a dispute over a proposal by the Pacific Island state of Tuvalu for strong, legally binding pacts from Copenhagen for all nations.

She said AOSIS members supported Tuvalu in principle but were still working out a common front. China and India favor legally binding cuts in greenhouse gases for rich nations in the Kyoto Protocol but less stringent obligations on the poor.

“A fine sounding political declaration from Copenhagen without a legally binding outcome is like a shark without teeth,” said Barry Coates, a spokesman for Oxfam.

Antonio Lima, of Cape Verde, the vice chair of AOSIS, said climate change was a looming disaster for the poor -- like the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius 2,000 years ago that buried the Roman city of Pompeii.

“They did not know what they were facing. Now we know what is going to happen. It will be the planet Pompeii,” he said.

Editing by Janet Lawrence