Denmark's top climate negotiator quits ahead of talks

COPENHAGEN, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Denmark's top climate policy negotiator has resigned with less than two months to go before the world meets in Copenhagen to agree on a new deal to curb the effects of climate change.

Thomas Becker, who has been called the right hand man of Minister for Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard, resigned last week and was replaced by senior diplomat Steffen Smidt, a ministry official said on Monday.

The move so close to the Dec. 7-18 meeting coincided with growing worries about whether governments will reach a deal after talks in Bangkok made little progress. Only one more meeting, in Barcelona next month, remains before negotiators come to Denmark.

Although the host's chief negotiator can wield influence as a broker behind the scenes, Denmark's own position is tightly tied to European Union policy, and Becker's absence was seen as unlikely to change an outcome which will be decided primarily by the big powers.

Becker is credited with the idea of holding the climate change conference, which Hedegaard will chair, in the Danish capital.

Becker could not be reached for comment but Danish media have speculated that his resignation stemmed from differences of opinion between the ministry and the prime minister's office over the level of ambition for the December meeting.

Hedegaard told Danish broadcaster DR on Sunday that cooperation with Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen has never been closer, and denied any sort of a rift.

She called Becker's resignation "sad."

"However, it is purely an administrative matter which I therefore have no comment on," she said on a DR current affairs programme.

Reporting by John Acher; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall