Sunday, 20 December 2009

Copenhagen: The last-ditch drama that saved the deal from collapse

In the end it came down to frantic horse trading between exhausted politicians. After two weeks of high politics and low cunning that pitted world leaders against each other and threw up extraordinary new alliances between states, agreement was finally reached yesterday on an accord to tackle global warming. But the bitterness and recriminations that bedevilled the talks threaten to spread as environmental activists and scientists react to what many see as a deeply flawed deal

John Vidal and Jonathan Watts, Sunday 20 December 2009 00.05 GMT

The Copenhagen accord was gavelled through in the early hours of yesterday morning after a night of extraordinary drama and two weeks of subterfuge. It is a document that will shape the world, the climate and the balance of power for decades to come, but the story of how it came into existence is one of high drama and low politics.
Amid leaks, suspicion, recriminations and exhaustion, the world's leaders abandoned ordinary negotiating protocol to haggle line-for-line with mid-level officials. An emergency meeting of 30 leaders was called after a royal banquet on Thursday evening because of the huge number of disputes still remaining.
China and India were desperate to avoid this last-minute attempt to strong-arm them into a deal. The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's plane mysteriously developed a problem that delayed his arrival. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao simply refused to attend, sending his officials instead. In a collapse of protocol, middle-ranking officials from the two countries negotiated line by line on a text with Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Germany's Angela Merkel and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Gordon Brown felt the only way to overcome the logjam was for leaders to descend into the detail and take on officials. Yet there was still no agreement by 7am on Friday.
"I thought it was meltdown," said Ed Miliband, Britain's secretary of state for energy and climate change. Brown returned to the fray, cranking out 13 amendments designed to overcome the objections of the developing nations and press home Europe's desire to commit to a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050 and a determination to make the process legally – not just "politically" – binding on all parties. Both goals were rejected by China and India, which had formed a strong alliance.
During the day, and the flurry of different texts, the leaders battled on, trying to reach an agreement that was not just about saving the Earth from global warming, but would also play an important role in reshaping the global balance of power. Barack Obama, who had flown in on Friday morning on Air Force One, joined the discussions immediately and held two sets of direct talks with Wen, who never once participated in the closed-room group meetings.
Around 8pm, after the second of these bilateral meetings, Obama returned to the negotiating room saying he had secured an agreement from Wen on the key issue of how promises to cut emissions would be verified by the international community. But a new fight then erupted in which China bizarrely insisted that Europe lower its targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
Merkel wanted to set a target for developed nations to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, but in the last gasp, China declared this unacceptable. This astonished many of those present: China was telling rich nations to rein back on their long-term commitment. The assumed reason was that China will have joined their ranks by 2050 and does not want to meet such a target. "Ridiculous," exclaimed Merkel as she was forced to abandon the target.
But it was not to be the final battle in a bruising conflict that left the negotiators drained and the draft diluted. The final text was released shortly before midnight. The final two-and-a-half-page political agreement – the Copenhagen accord – was vaguely worded, short on detail and not legally binding. Although it was hailed as a step forward by Brown and Obama, the weak content and the final huddled process of decision-making – ignoring the majority of the 192 nations present – provoked disappointment and fury.
Part of the frustration was the lack of new ambition. Due to the leaks, hold-ups and suspicion, China barely budged and the EU refused to raise it sights. Before the Copenhagen conference, the EU said it was willing to raise its emissions reduction target from 20% to 30% by 2020 if other countries also lifted theirs. That never happened. European commission president José Manuel Barroso said not one country asked the EU to move up to the higher figure, but counterparts had pulled down EU proposals to set a target for 2050.
"It was extraordinary," he said. "This is important for the record. Other parties do not have the interest and awareness in climate change that we have." Which other party was soon apparent. That night, immediately after the accord was announced and denounced for its weakness, the Observer asked the director general of the Swedish environment protection agency, Lars-Erik Liljelund, who was to blame for blocking a 2050 target for cutting emissions.
"China," he said after a dramatic pause. "China doesn't like numbers."
The drama was not over. Without recognition by the plenary session of all the delegate nations, the agreement was almost worthless. But the anger in the hall meant that approval was far from certain. When the Danish chairman, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, gave delegates just an hour to consider the accord, he was assailed by a storm of criticism.
The Venezuelan representative raised a bloodied hand to grab his attention. "Do I have to bleed to grab your attention," she fumed. "International agreements cannot be imposed by a small exclusive group. You are endorsing a coup d'état against the United Nations."
While the debate raged, China's delegate, Su Wei, was silent as Latin American nations and small island states lined up to attack the accord and the way it had been reached.
"We're offended by the methodology. This has been done in the dark," fumed the Bolivian delegate. "It does not respect two years of work."
Others resorted to histrionics. The document "is a solution based on the same very values, in our opinion, that channelled six million people in Europe into furnaces," said Sudan's Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping.
It was too much for Rasmussen, who looked strained and exhausted after a week spent vainly trying to bridge the schisms between the parties. He raised his gavel to close the debate, which would have aborted the Copenhagen accord and condemned the summit to abject failure.
The document was saved at the last second by Miliband, who had rushed back from his hotel room to call for an adjournment. During the recess, a group led by Britain, the US and Australia forced Rasmussen out of the chair and negotiated a last-minute compromise. The accord was neither accepted or rejected, it was merely "noted". This gave it a semblance of recognition, but the weak language reflected the unease that has surrounded its inception. Copenhagen was the leakiest international conference in history. The first leak, on the second day of the conference, came after a mysterious telephone invitation to meet a diplomat in a cubbyhole at the back of one of the delegation offices.
Two sheets of paper were handed over. They were the detailed analysis of the "Danish text", a widely rumoured but never seen document prepared by a few rich countries in secret and almost certainly intended to be sprung on unsuspecting developing countries when there was an impasse at a late stage in the negotiations.
But without the actual text, the document was incomplete and hard to use. The leaker said that other papers would be handed over to the Guardian off the premises the next day, but the call never came. The day was only saved by an another leaker from another country who handed over a copy of the Danish text within 24 hours. The two leaks together exploded into the negotiations, with developing countries convinced of a conspiracy and rich countries furious as their plans were revealed. If adopted, the text would have killed off the Kyoto treaty, which puts legal demands on rich nations, but not developing ones.
As the conference went on, the leaks became more regular, until by the end there was a flood. Three days before the end, a confidential scientific analysis paper emerged from the heart of the UN secretariat, showing that the emission-cut pledges countries had made by that point would lead not to a 2C rise, as countries were aiming for, but a 3C rise that would frazzle half the world. Britain and other rich countries claimed that the figures were wrong, despite other analyses agreeing with them. But developing countries accused the UN of knowingly consigning countries to destruction.
In the last 24 hours, it became negotiation by leak. Secret documents were deliberately left on photocopiers, others were thrust into journalists' hands or put on the web. People were photographing them and handing them around all the time. All eight versions of the final text that world leaders were asked to sign up to were leaked within minutes of being published. The talks repeatedly teetered on the brink of collapse.
As the talks were snared on procedural issues inside the conference hall, civil society was getting angry. As the arrival of the 120 world leaders approached, more and more restrictions were imposed on who was allowed in. The 7,000 colourful and noisy kids, environmentalists, church groups, lobbyists, students, activists and others who had been allowed into the Bella centre every day were first reduced to 1,000 and then to just 90 on the last day.
Mainstream groups such as Friends of the Earth International and Greenpeace were cut down from hundreds of activists to only a few each. Asian and African groups were hit the hardest because entry was in proportion to membership size.
Posters went up – "How can you decide for us without us?" and "Civil society silenced" – and there were demonstrations, but by the end the Bella centre was silenced.
Before the start of the conference, it had been assumed the leaders would only have to settle two or three issues when they arrived at Copenhagen, but by the time they walked in there were still 192 disputed pieces of text in the drafts.
Rather than reopen debate following the frantic final 24 hours of horse trading, the new chair gavelled through the decision in a fraction of a second. Sudan, China and India expressed concerns, but the Copenhagen accord had been born. Though frail and unloved, this document will shape the lives of generations. Though many environmentalists claimed no deal was better than such a weak deal, those most closely involved in the negotiations said it marked progress of a sort.
"It was definitely worth saving," said Miliband. "This is the first time that developed and developing nations have agreed to deal with emissions and the first time the world has agreed on a deal on climate finance."
Money is likely to oil the deal. Only nations that accept the UN document will be entitled to some of the $30bn dollar start-up fund that will be made available over the next three years to tackle deforestation, share technology and deal with the impact of climate change.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said the negotiations that ultimately involved 113 leaders were unprecedented in UN history, but the effort had been worth while.
"Finally we have sealed the deal. Bringing world leaders to the table paid off," said Ban, who had slept only two hours in the previous two days. "It's not what everyone hoped for, but this is a beginning."
The sentiments were echoed by John Hay, spokesman for the United Nations framework convention on climate change: "At the UNFPCCC, there has been quite a bit of drama over the years. But this may top the list."
Outside the conference hall yesterday, more than 100 protesters chanted: "You're destroying our future!" Some carried signs of Obama with the words "climate shame" pasted on his face.
Friends of the Earth said the "secret backroom declaration" failed to take into account the needs of more than a hundred countries". "This toothless declaration, being spun by the US as a historic success, reflects contempt for the multilateral process and we expect more from our Nobel prize-winning president," said the group's spokeswoman, Kate Horner.
Negotiators put on a brave face. In the early hours, as he headed out into the bitterly cold, Brian Cowen, the Irish taoiseach, expressed disappointment at the outcome.
"The substance of the European Union's [offers] was robustly put, but we couldn't get the commitment of others," Cowen said. "We did not achieve everything we wanted, but the reality is that this is as much as can be advanced at this stage."
China seemed more satisfied. "The meeting has had a positive result, everyone should be happy," said Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation.

This was a huge step on from our work in Kyoto

John Prescott, Saturday 19 December 2009 21.00 GMT
I came home from Copenhagen and picked up the newspapers. The headlines read: "Talks end in failure"; "Deadlock"; "Copenhagen fails the test".
The "test" for many journalists and NGOs was whether there'd be a legal agreement, which was never a possibility, just as we didn't get one at Kyoto. No. The real headline is that Copenhagen has become the first global agreement on climate change. The Copenhagen accord reaffirms the science that we shouldn't allow the temperature to rise more than two degrees, establishes a green climate fund providing $30bn from 1 January and a new form of verification.
This isn't failure. It's not as good as it should have been but as Ban Ki-moon said, it's another important step to control climate change.
And it's certainly not "genocide" as the Sudanese delegate said. Perhaps he should try to tackle genocide at home first before preaching to the rest of world.
My five days at Copenhagen reminded me so much of Kyoto. In 1997, when I was negotiating for the EU, I coined a phrase. When journalists followed me between meetings trying to get updates, I'd say: "I'm walking and talking." Twelve years on in Copenhagen and I've been doing the same, this time for the Council of Europe as its rapporteur on climate change. We've been calling for a fairer deal for developing nations based on social justice. China may be becoming the world's biggest emitter, but if you look at CO² emissions per person, each American emits 20 tonnes a year, a Chinese person just six and an African less than one.
When I launched the Council of Europe's New Earth Deal campaign, which rejected the EU's limited proposals, I predicted three things. First, there wouldn't be a legally binding agreement. That will come later. Second, that Copenhagen would be 10 times more difficult than Kyoto. In 1997, we were trying to find agreement among 47 developed countries. Copenhagen needed consensus from 192. And finally, the deal would come down to the G2 – China and the US. It's at the conference when you really get that chance to press home the message. I lobbied John Kerry, Al Gore and the Chinese environment minister Xie Zhenhua, telling them they had to "wriggle more" to get a deal. The translator fell silent, but when I mimed a wriggle to Xie, he smiled and understood what I meant.
But the atmosphere was soured by the US, first by its climate change special envoy, Todd Stern, who said emissions "isn't a matter of politics or morality or anything else, it's just maths", which completely ignored the per capita argument. President Obama's speech blaming China didn't help either.
The US has pushed the Chinese hard on emissions cuts. Fine when you've had your industrial revolution. But China and the other developing countries need that growth. Understandable when more than half of the planet is living on less than $2 a day.
But one world leader stands out for me. Gordon Brown, who made a brilliant speech, has shown once again real leadership in finding global solutions to global problems, just as he did at the G20 on finance. He was the first leader to commit to go to Copenhagen, successfully lobbied for others to join him and got the fast-track fund off the ground. Yet again, he's proved he's a big man for a big job. So let's keep walking and talking to the UN climate talks in Bonn in May and the next COP in Mexico in December. That's when the fine detail will be hammered out, just like we did after Kyoto.
• John Prescott is the Council of Europe's rapporteur on climate change

China blamed as anger mounts over climate deal

• Beijing accused over emissions cuts• Campaigners say accord 'a disaster'

Jonathan Watts and John Vidal in Copenhagen Robin McKie and Toby Helm
The Observer, Sunday 20 December 2009
An outbreak of bitter recrimination has erupted among politicians and delegates following the drawing up of the Copenhagen accord for tackling climate change.
The deal, finally hammered out early yesterday, had been expected to commit countries to deep cuts in carbon emissions. In the end, it fell short of this goal after China fought hard against strong US pressure to submit to a regime of international monitoring.
The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, walked out of the conference at one point, and sent a lowly protocol officer to negotiate with Barack Obama. In the end, a draft agreement put forward by China – and backed by Brazil, India and African nations – commits the world to the broad ambition of preventing global temperatures from rising above 2C. Crucially, however, it does not force any nation to make specific cuts.
"For the Chinese, this was our sovereignty and our national interest," said Xie Zhenhua, head of China's delegation.
Last night, some delegates were openly critical of China for its intransigence. Asked by the Observer who was to blame for blocking the introduction of controlled emissions, the director general of the Swedish environment protection agency, Lars-Erik Liljelund, replied: "China. China doesn't like numbers." At the same time, others have criticised the Americans for pushing China too hard.
"President Obama's speech blaming China didn't help," says John Prescott, writing in today's Observer.
The accord was formally recognised after a dramatic all-night plenary session, during which the Danish chairman was forced to step aside, a Venezuelan delegate cut her hand, and Britain's climate and energy secretary, Ed Miliband, salvaged the deal just as it appeared on the verge of being rejected.
The tumultuous events concluded a fortnight of fraught and sometimes machiavellian negotiations that saw a resurgent China link forces with India, Brazil and African states to thwart efforts by rich nations to steamroller through a binding treaty that would suit their interests.
Although hailed by Obama, the deal has been condemned by activists and NGOs, while the European commission's president, José Manuel Barroso, admitted he was disappointed after EU attempts to introduce long-term targets for reducing global emissions by 50% by 2050 were blocked.
Last night Miliband was being credited with helping to rescue the summit from disaster. He had been preparing to go to bed at 4am, after the main accord had been agreed, only to be called by officials and warned that several countries were threatening to veto its signature.
Miliband returned to the conference centre in time to hear Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping comparing the proposed agreement to the Holocaust. He said the deal "asked Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries". A furious Miliband intervened and dismissed Di-Aping's claims as "disgusting".
This was "a moment of profound crisis", Miliband told delegates. The proposed deal was by no means perfect, and would have many problems, he admitted. "But it is a document that in substantive ways will make the lives of people around this planet better because it puts into effect fast-start finance of $30bn; it puts into effect a plan for $100bn of long-term public and private finance." The deal was then agreed by delegates.
The accord makes reference to the need to keep temperature rises to no more than 2C, and says rich countries will commit to cutting greenhouse gases, and developing nations will take steps to limit the growth of their emissions. Countries will be able to set out their pledges for action in an appendix. In addition, there are provisions for short-term finance of up to $10bn a year over three years to help poorer countries fight climate change, and a long-term funding package worth $100bn a year by 2020.
However, the original plan was for the Copenhagen talks to deliver a comprehensive, legally binding international deal to tackle climate change. This has not materialised and last night leaders of NGOs united in condemning the limited nature of the deal.
"This accord is not legally binding, it's a political statement," said Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International. "This is a disaster for the poor nations – the urgency of climate change was not really considered."
Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive, agreed. "World leaders in Copenhagen seem to have forgotten that they were not negotiating numbers, they were negotiating lives," she said.

Copenhagen: The key players and how they rated

The agreement brokered by Barack Obama has faced international criticism from all sides, but most participants are already back home trying to portray it as a national political victory

Suzanne Goldenberg in Copenhagen, Toby Helm and John Vidal
The Observer, Sunday 20 December 2009
Barack Obama
The last time Barack Obama took a chance on Copenhagen it ended in abject humiliation.
The president hopped on a flight to the Danish capital to join a campaign by Oprah Winfrey and his wife, Michelle, to try to win Chicago the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games. But the Obamas' reliance on their high-voltage star power fell flat.
The International Olympic Committee eliminated Chicago in the first round of voting. When Obama returned to Washington, Republicans accused him of diminishing the office of president, and using up too much American political capital on such a frivolous matter.
On this return visit, the president did rather better. He flew home into a winter snowstorm in Washington able to claim that – after two years of negotiations had ended in deadlock – he had persuaded the world's biggest producers of greenhouse gases to act on global warming.
Environmentalists denounced the deal as a sham; and even Obama described its achievements as "modest". As he told a press conference on Friday night, holding out for a better deal might have meant no deal: "There might be such frustration and cynicism that, rather than taking one step forward, we ended up taking two steps back."
The White House will be able to spin Obama's efforts into a portrait of muscular diplomacy. His speech to the summit, in which he sourly noted the distance that remained to a deal, showed the president was prepared to come down hard against political opponents – a capability that has not been in full view in Washington.
That could help blunt Republican claims that the president – once again – gambled and lost at Copenhagen, and weakened America on the international stage. For Democrats, the weakness of the Copenhagen deal may be something of a relief. Obama did not commit America to any new action, giving them additional wriggle room to frame climate legislation with a strong chance of being passed in the Senate.
The deal that emerged in Copenhagen allows Obama to claim that he got China to meet America's demand that it provide accountability of its actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The issue had been one of the biggest sticking points in negotiations, and getting some elements of a compromise from China was crucial to Obama's efforts to get the legislation through the Senate.
Republican and Democratic senators from Midwest manufacturing states have been adamant that any deal should not give a competitive advantage to Chinese and Indian industry.
As they returned home on Air Force One, White House officials gave a detailed briefing on how Obama worked his way around a Chinese protocol officer who he thought was getting in the way of his meeting with Wen Jiabao. They also suggested the president had walked uninvited into a meeting of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. The White House had previously thought the meeting would be a one-on-one between Wen and Obama.
"The only surprise we had, in all honesty, was… that in that room wasn't just the Chinese having a meeting… but in fact all four countries that we had been trying to arrange meetings with," the White House official said. "The president's viewpoint is: I wanted to see them all, and now is our chance."
Obama's deal does not, of course, come close to what science says must be done on global warming, and falls far short of the UN's ambitions. It was widely condemned by African and even European officials as soon as Obama left the conference centre – and predictably by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. "We will reject any document Obama tries to slide over the top," he said.
But the huge shortfalls, and the grumblings of African countries, are not going to matter as much in Washington as the fact that Obama can claim that he went face to face with China – and won.
Suzanne Goldenberg
Gordon BrownMiliband's late-night dash helped avert a conference crisis
An exhausted Ed Miliband was in his pyjamas and about to get into bed at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Copenhagen when he made a final check call to an official at 4am. The climate change secretary could not believe what he heard.
After two weeks of summitry and years of preparation, an accord had finally been agreed by 30 countries, including the UK and US. Now it just had to be ratified by the full 192 nations present to gain formal UN status. It looked like a formality — far from perfect, but it was something for leaders across the globe to take home.
However, the official told Miliband that five countries – Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Sudan and Saudi Arabia – were cutting up rough and saying they would veto a deal. The whole summit could end in complete failure.
Miliband tore back to the conference centre and entered the meeting to hear the Sudanese official Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping comparing the agreement to the Holocaust. The pact, he said, was "a solution based on values, the very same values in our opinion that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces". It "asked Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries".
Delegates from a number of western countries quickly took to the floor to denounce the Sudanese delegate's references as offensive, among them Miliband, who is Jewish. It was a "disgusting comparison" which he said "should offend people across this conference whatever background they come from".
Officials in Copenhagen said Miliband, as much as anyone, helped to rescue the meeting from potential disaster by his intervention. Certainly, few governments had been as intensely and closely involved in the Copenhagen negotiations for the past few months as the British one, with Gordon Brown and Miliband taking the lead.
For Brown, who is desperate to portray himself as a global statesman, a father figure of world politics following his success in leading the global rescue of the banking system last year, Copenhagen was a perfect chance. He had been the first to propose the idea of a global fund to help developing countries obtain new clean energy technology and protect their peoples from the worst ravages of climate change. Brown devised the idea that industrialised countries set up a $100bn climate fund for developing countries, a plan now enshrined in the Copenhagen deal.
The UK government also championed turning Copenhagen into a fully-fledged summit of prime ministers and presidents, which Barack Obama would have little option but to attend.
Miliband had turned up the rhetoric in the week's before Copenhagen, warning in an interview with the Observer a fortnight ago that the consequence of failure would be "scary" in terms of the effect on the environment. There would be more floods like those in Cumbria, rising sea levels, and disastrous economic consequences as the world tried to contain the problems in future. He said "children will hold us in contempt" if we failed. So if he and the prime minister had to return to the UK empty-handed, the failure would have been hugely politically damaging.
Last night after returning, Miliband maintained that although he would have preferred a legally binding accord, there was much in the agreement that represented significant progress. "There is a danger of too much negativity," he said. "There are important things in this agreement, including on carbon emissions, which is on course towards two degrees, and on the finance. We recognise there could have been more ambition in parts of this agreement. Therefore we have to drive forward as hard as we can towards both a legally binding treaty and that ambition."
Unfortunately for Brown he did not receive a name check from Obama in his roll call of those to be thanked for their efforts to reach a deal. But the upside was that, thanks in part to his climate change secretary, there were at least some fruits of their late night labours to talk about on return.
Toby Helm
ChinaPromise that can't be proved
Barack Obama was not the only world leader prepared to play hardball at the conference, as China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, also demonstrated that he could withstand pressure from the international community.
Although China, in signing the deal, commits for the first time to curbing the rate of growth of its emissions, Wen can claim that he safeguarded the country's economic future.
China fought hard against strong pressure from America to submit to an international regime that would monitor if it was indeed cutting emissions as promised.
When Obama said China's stand on accountability would consign any deal to "empty words on a page", Wen walked out of the conference centre and went back to his hotel.
He later delivered an additional snub by sending a protocol officer to talk to Obama.
Suzanne Goldenberg
The EUNightmare avoided – but not embarrassment
Europe came to Copenhagen as the bloc that potentially stood to lose the most. The fear was that the US and other countries would refuse to cut their emissions further, but the EU would be forced by public pressure, or by the US , to cut from 20% to 30%, as it had promised to do if there was an ambitious deal.
This would leave it carrying most of the cuts and economically compromised.
The EU need not have worried. No country forced its hand on emission cuts in the negotiations, and it was itself comprehensively split, with countries such as Poland and even Germany reportedly blocking moves by Britain and others to put the cuts on the table.
One European country that played a key role was Denmark, the host, but this turned out to be an embarrassment.
Connie Hedegaard, the Danish climate minister, started well but was forced at the start of week two to step down in favour of the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, officially because it would be inappropriate for a mere climate minister to meet and greet world leaders. But it was an open secret that she was at odds with her leader and the rich countries preferred their own man.
Then Lars Løkke Rasmussen proved to be out of his depth at this level of politics. He, too, was forced to step down, probably by the UK, Australia, Canada and others.
Denmark also gave the world the "Danish text", a semi-secret set of proposals prepared with the rich countries. to be pushed for at the end of the talks. It was leaked to the Guardian on day two, and from then on the fight between rich and poor countries was furious.
John Vidal
AfricaBold nations wield their new power
The talks saw Africa assert itself on the world stage. The poorest and climatically most vulnerable continent has the most to lose from temperature increases and formed its own negotiating group for the first time.
Led by President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, it stunned France, Britain and other rich nations last month by unexpectedly walking out of a preparatory UN climate conference meeting in Barcelona. The carefully planned move forced the UN into giving Africa and the concerns of the poorest more negotiating time.
Africa came to Copenhagen emboldened and, with the backing of international environment and development groups, staked out the moral high ground. By demanding the deepest emission cuts from the rich, and stoutly defending the Kyoto protocol – the only legal agreement that forces such countries to cut emissions – it was for once at the dead centre of global politics.
But Africa also has added clout in climate politics because of its close and growing links with China, the world's biggest producer of emissions. China has invested more than any other country in Africa's metals, oil and forests, and it now has more allies there than in most other continents.
Just as the US used Britain and its friends to make its arguments at Copenhagen, so China used Africa. But it worked both ways: in an astonishingly bold move, it seems that Africa at one point threatened to withhold its resources from China if it joined other countries in trying to abandon the Kyoto protocol.
But the continent also threw up one of the most interesting new figures on the world stage. Lumumba Di-aping, the Sudanese ambassador to New York, is a McKinsey and Oxford-trained radical economist who not only matched the media spin of western countries, but was partly behind George Soros's plan to use hundreds of billions of dollars of IMF special drawing rights to fund the financial deal.
In the end, the west exerted its traditional influence in Africa. President Meles was courted strongly by presidents Sarkozy, Brown and Obama in the days before the world leaders met, to try to bring Africa aboard the west's deal.
Meles proposed that developing countries accept $100bn a year – a remarkably similar sum to what the west had suggested. The accusations soon flew that Ethiopia had been bought and Meles was immediately slapped down by his peers.
Africa ended the talks divided, but knowing that it now plays a far more important role in the new politics of climate change.
John Vidal

Barack Obama’s climate deal unravels at last moment

Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor

The United Nations climate change conference ended in recrimination yesterday without reaching a clear deal on emissions targets.
After a stormy session in Copenhagen, in which a vociferous anti-American minority brought the talks close to collapse, most countries agreed simply to “take note” of a watered-down agreement brokered by President Barack Obama and supported by Britain.
This accord — which had been drawn up in discussions with China and 30 or so other countries on Friday — sets a target of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2C above pre-industrial times.
Above this temperature, scientists say, the world would start to experience dangerous changes, including floods, droughts and rising seas.

Critics pointed out, however, that the agreement failed to say how this limit on rising temperatures would be achieved. It pushed into the future decisions on core problems such as emissions cuts, and did not specify where a proposed $100 billion (£62 billion) in annual aid for developing nations would come from.
Yvo de Boer, the head of the UN climate change secretariat, called it “basically a letter of intent ... the ingredients of an architecture that can respond to the long-term challenge of climate change”.
Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International, dismissed it as “a triumph of spin over substance. It recognises the need to keep warming below 2C but does not commit to do so. It kicks back the big decisions on emissions cuts and fudges the issue of climate cash”.
The deal was denounced when put early yesterday to a plenary session of the conference after Obama and other heads of state had flown home.
Delegates from Sudan, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia — who form an anti-American front — led the attack.
A Sudanese delegate, Lumumba Di-Aping, caused uproar when he compared the plan with the Holocaust. It was, he said, “a solution based on the same very values, in our opinion, that piled 6m people into furnaces in Europe”.
“The reference to the Holocaust is ... absolutely despicable,” said Anders Turesson, Sweden’s chief negotiator.

Gasbag US and China leave us in a world of trouble

Charles Clover

Jeez, what a way to run a planet. Anyone who was at Copenhagen has got to wonder whether this chaotic meeting of 130 world leaders and 40,000 hangers-on really was the way to solve the problems of atmospheric pollution, or any other global problem come to that, and whether the ghastly fudge of a so-called agreement that occurred on Friday night when the ambition slipped out of the talks could have been avoided.
Let us not forget, Copenhagen was the result of two years’ negotiations originally meant to replace the Kyoto protocol with a new legally binding treaty that would keep the world from warming by more than 2C. Then, suddenly, by sleight of diplomatic hand a few months back, it became a meeting to agree the terms of a treaty that would be signed six months on, after the United States Senate had obligingly ratified the pledges made by President Barack Obama last week.
The trouble is, once they got to Copenhagen, nobody seems to have remembered the script, and what has emerged is a turkey, just in time for Christmas.
As President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil put it, this was more like a trade union negotiation than a meeting to save the world from imminent disaster. The momentum that should have come into the talks with the arrival of Obama was lost because of his lacklustre speech, which was critical of China and obviously designed not to provoke the Senate. It all got sticky again. And now there will be recriminations stretching into the new year.
So who is to blame for the desperate lack of ambition of the agreement in Copenhagen, when there appeared at one time to be many useful offers on the table? The obvious target will be the United Nations organisers or the Danish presidency of the conference. Many non-governmental organisations were accredited to the conference and then told to go away again, for instance. The Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, didn’t help by taking over the conference presidency halfway from Connie Hedegaard, whom delegates had begun to trust. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon failed to whip up the enthusiasm he did at Bali when he exhorted delegates to put aside their national interests for the planet’s sake.
Much as it is fun to belabour the UN, it wasn’t its fault this time. World leaders were ultimately unable to put their national interests aside and the common good got lost: that’s the simple truth. The conference had come tantalisingly close to a proper deal, they failed to seal it.
The leadership of the early 21st century hasn’t yet recognised that the ways of the 20th century won’t work for the new kinds of problems faced by mankind. There are many more major players today, the world’s population will be pushing towards 9 billion by the middle of the century, and China is the world’s biggest polluter. In this multilateral world there are massive shared problems — food security, ocean acidification and overfishing as well as climate change — which require intense co-operation. It’s a new world and you can’t fix the deals the way the big players used to.
What were the Americans, normally the shrewdest negotiators, playing at? Obama made a speech that had no magic to persuade other parties of America’s good faith. It lacked a rousing exhortation to the Senate to endorse even the significant 17% cuts in emissions the US is offering by 2020 with much deeper cuts to come after that.
The Americans criticised the Chinese for not allowing their emissions to be internationally verified — without offering anything in return. Yet the Chinese pursued their national interest with a ruthlessness that was truly chilling. And then Washington forgot to placate a developing world which can’t forget that the US — the second-biggest polluter in the world — actually signed a treaty to freeze its emissions as long ago as 1992. If you are late to the party then you need to bring a big present.
To succeed in these talks, Obama probably needed to have his battle with the Senate before he came to Copenhagen. He failed to do so, because healthcare was his priority. Now the US has gone out of its way to issue a joint statement with four other countries on a separate track, rather than with the 193 attending. The president may have been right to walk away from what the Chinese were offering, but all the same, a lot of this could have been foreseen. To their credit, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband tried hard to get a deal, but the biggest players weren’t having any. Diplomatic disasters don’t come much bigger than this.
Obama must hate Copenhagen. The last time he came here he lost Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. This time, with so poor a negotiating hand, he shouldn’t have come.
Not all of this is — as they say — the end of the world. But no one should be under any illusion that Copenhagen puts the world on course to avert potentially dangerous climate change by cutting carbon emissions. That failure may already have doomed the coral reefs and triggered vast problems for the world’s poor. The window for an agreement that does keep the rise in global average temperatures below 2C will close in a year or so. All the work will have to be done again. Soon. All because a handful of world leaders forgot which century they were in.

Wind turbines that deliver more power

Green Idea

Wind turbines have a few problems. They shut down when the wind is too strong, and do nothing when it isn’t blowing. Vertical Wind Energy, a Newcastle start-up, says its design suffers from neither shortcoming. Instead of the traditional pinwheel configuration, Vertical’s machine has upright blades that spin like a top around a central, vertical axis, rather than at right angles to the ground. The turbine can be used by homes, businesses and farms. The company recently installed its first demonstration turbine near Shrewsbury.
More information is available at

The ship with holes and a sail – to save fuel

Tough emissions rules and industry overcapacity are prompting bold innovations
Danny Fortson

It may sound bizarre, but a plan to save the shipping industry involves poking big holes through the bottom of every cargo ship and tanker in the world’s 80,000-strong commercial fleet.
Jorn Winkler and his company, Rotterdam-based DK Group, have already tried it out on one vessel, with interesting results. The idea is to shoot compressed air through cavities bored into ship hulls. The trial vessel didn’t sink — quite the opposite: the airflow created a buffer of bubbles to reduce drag and, crucially, cut fuel consumption by 10%.
Winkler, DK’s founder and executive vice-president, is a former pilot and so understands aerodynamics. He has been working on the technology for a decade, but it is only recently that the industry has started to pay attention.
“Shipowners have been reluctant for a long time to embrace technology,” he said. “Now they’re realising they need it. Otherwise they’re all going to go bankrupt.”

The shipping industry, which delivers 90% of the world’s traded goods, is in trouble. Thanks to the recession, traffic flows and freight rates have plunged in the past year. At the same time, an unprecedented wave of new ships, ordered at the height of the boom, is about to flood the market. An even bigger problem looms: a global move to police the industry’s carbon emissions.
Shipping is the only industry apart from aviation that has not yet been ensnared by regulations limiting and fining polluters. It has accepted, grudgingly, that this will soon end. What form the new regime will take was debated at the climate change talks in Copenhagen. No deal was reached, but many eventually expect there will be a tax on bunker fuel, the sulphuric leftovers from petrol refining that power the world’s fleets. That could add $25 billion (£15.5 billion), by some estimates, to the industry’s yearly running costs.
That, combined with the already dire financial straits of large parts of the industry, has stoked an urgent search to cut emissions and fuel bills. A growing number of companies are coming up with offers, from aerodynamic paint and rubberised propellers to Winkler’s air-cavity system.
“Ship design hasn’t changed since the industry was moved to Asia 30 years ago,” Winkler said. “The only way out for the industry now is efficiency.”
Reliable figures on the carbon output of shipping are elusive. The International Maritime Organisation, the UN agency that oversees the industry, estimated in a report two years ago that it accounts for 2.7% of global emissions. Icap, one of the largest shipbrokers, argues that the total is more like 4%. “Despite all approximations, the consensus is that the figures are already exceeding a billion tonnes a year and can only rise from here,” it said in a recent report.
What is certain is that shipping’s slice of the pollution pie is already significant, is getting bigger, and will inevitably face regulation in the near future. Every day about 7.5m barrels of oil is burned by cargo ships, tankers and dry-bulk carriers — about 9% of global consumption.
According to Clarkson, the shipping services group, within the next two-and-a-half years the global fleet will increase by 40%, a rise never before seen in the industry. Yet the monster tankers and cargo vessels now being churned out of the shipyards of South Korea and China are not very different from those built decades ago. Martin Stopford, head of research at Clarksons, said: “The last real wave of innovation was in the 1950s and 1960s.”
The situation has opened a window of opportunity for new technologies — such as giant kites. SkySails, a small firm based in Hamburg, will next year begin production of computer controlled kites that can be fitted to the bow of a ship. With a 300-metre tether, a kite can capture stronger winds than those close to the sea’s surface.
SkySails boss Stephan Wrage said in the right conditions they can cut fuel use by 35%. It is early days, though. So far the loss-making firm has sold “about a dozen” and needs cash to go into volume production.
Even so, ideas like Wrage’s are gaining pace. Japan’s Ocean Policy Research Foundation predicts that by 2050 more than half the world fleet will be carbon-free. It envisages solar panels, fuel cells, wind power and other measures all working together.
For now, however, most owners are concentrating on incremental measures. Researchers are experimenting with slicker paint, for example, that can lop 10% off the fuel bill by reducing friction.
Maersk, the Dutch shipping giant, found that by cutting its speed by 1.5 knots a container ship from Barcelona to Los Angeles reduces its carbon output 16%. It has also pioneered the use of seawater to keep goods on board frozen rather than using conventional power-hungry refrigeration units. Nils Andersen, chief executive, has pledged to cut emissions across its fleet 20% by 2017.
Like past innovations, the flurry of activity is being driven by economic necessity. Some parts of the sector such as container shipping, which rely directly on consumer spending, are in “full recession”, Stopford said. “There is a lot of new tonnage arriving at an inconvenient time. The low rates mean that many shipowners are making just enough to meet running costs,” he said.
For some, the reversal of fortune has been spectacular. In the summer of 2008 bulk carriers, which deliver commodities such as wheat and coal, were charging $300,000 a day. By November rates had collapsed to just $2,000 a day.
While rates have recovered, to between $40,000 and $50,000, market experts expect the deluge of new ships to mute the recovery. “We’ll have 60% overcapacity for the next five years. That’s bad for pricing,” said one company executive. “We need to bring down our fuel consumption.”
Meanwhile, there is also a public relations fight to be won. For decades the industry has enjoyed its anonymity, toiling away deep in the machine room of the global economy. In the past couple of years, though, the climate change debate has dragged it into the harsh light of day. Not long ago it was a rarity for people to consider the carbon impact of the trainers on their feet or the television set in their living rooms. Increasingly, they do.
The similarities between shipping and aviation are many. Both industries have launched big public relations drives in the past few years as environmental awareness has intensified.
Shipowners rightly point out that they emit less than 2% of the pollution that would be generated if the same goods were sent by air. The aviation industry, in return, points to shipping’s less than stellar track record of spills and the releasing of harmful chemicals into the oceans — ships dump vast amounts of sulfur dioxide, a known carcinogen.
The mud-slinging is part of the negotiations. At Copenhagen at least eight proposals to regulate emissions were tabled — from plans to include shipping, like aviation, in Europe’s carbon-trading scheme from 2012, to a straight bunker-fuel levy that would then be used to fund carbon-cutting projects elsewhere.
Shipping lobbyists are pushing for a global deal because the global nature of the business means that any regional schemes would simply push shipowners to operate from less regulated countries. Wrage said: “The most important thing for us is that clear targets are set and a price is put on carbon at Copenhagen. If they don’t get a result, it’s bad for all of us.”
In the meantime, ideas large and small are germinating. “We are servants of global trade,” said Simon Bennett of the International Shipping Federation, the London-based trade group. “Imposing caps on our emission would effectively be putting a brake on economic growth.”