World News

Poor urge deep climate cuts; U.N. says out of reach

BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) - Developing countries said on Wednesday they risked “total destruction” unless the rich stepped up the fight against climate change to a level that even the United Nations says is out of reach.

Greenpeace activists hang a banner at the Sagrada Familia Temple, designed by Antoni Gaudi, in Barcelona November 2, 2009. Developing countries said on Wednesday they risked "total destruction" unless the rich stepped up the fight against climate change to a level that even the United Nations says is out of reach. REUTERS/Albert Gea

The top U.S. climate diplomat Todd Stern blamed a “17-year divide” between rich and poor nations for slow progress at the U.N. talks meant to agree a global climate deal in Copenhagen in December, and slammed “debating society” pranks.

Keeping up pressure in Barcelona, the final preparatory session for the December meeting, the poor said that even the most ambitious offers by the European Union, tougher than most nations, were far too weak for a new U.N. climate pact.

“The result of that is to condemn developing countries to a total destruction of their livelihoods, their economies. Their land, their forests will all be destroyed. And for what purpose?” said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping of Sudan, chair of the Group of 77 and China, representing poor nations.

“Anything south of 40 (percent) means that Africa’s population, Africa’s land mass is offered destruction,” he told a news conference.

Developing countries at the Barcelona talks insisted that rich nations should cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 -- far more than on offer.

But even the United Nations said that would involve too wrenching a shift. African nations resumed negotiations in Barcelona on Tuesday after a one-day partial boycott following agreement on more focus on cuts by the rich.

“I think to get to minus 40 is too heavy a lift,” Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters. Such a shift would require “going back to the drawing board” and would economically “come at a huge cost,” he said.


In Washington, the top U.S. diplomat on climate change, Todd Stern, criticised entrenched positions in talks since the world agreed the U.N. climate convention in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

“The divide between developed and developing countries that has run down the center of climate change discussions for the past 17 years is still alive and well,” he told a panel in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We are not engaged right now in a debating society”, he said of the international talks.

So far, developed nations are planning cuts averaging between 11 and 15 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels to slow climate change that could lead to more droughts, floods, rising sea levels, more powerful cyclones and a spread of disease.

Sudan’s Di-Aping said “in real and absolute terms (the effort) is minimal”. He said rich nations spent billions of dollars on solving the financial crisis or on defence.

Cuts of 40 percent as demanded by African nations “would be extremely difficult,” said Anders Turesson, head of the Swedish delegation which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

The United States is the only nation outside the existing Kyoto Protocol for curbing industrialised nations’ emissions to 2012 and the Senate is debating a bill that would cut emissions by about 7 percent below 1990 levels.

A panel of U.N. climate scientists said in 2007 that emissions by developed nations would have to be cut by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 to avoid the worst of global warming.

European Union lawmakers gave final approval to hand polluting industries including steelmakers free carbon emissions permits for up to a decade, to safeguard them from unfair competition with countries which faced no carbon limits.

About 100 activists blocked the exit of the U.N. climate summit building in Barcelona for an hour to demand urgent, ambitious carbon reductions by 2020, chanting “no way out”.