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Copenhagen Day Two: from warnings about global warming to fury over leaked 'text'

Sue Wheat
8th December 2009
After the high emotion and messages of hope that eminated from nearly all quarters of the International Climate Summit in Copenhagen yesterday, the conference went hurtling into work mode on its second day, even breaking into a scandal by the afternoon. 

As the World Meteoroligical Organisation declared today that this decade is the warmest on earth ever, so Gordon Brown’s call for Europe to increase its "level of ambition" and commit to the deeper cuts of 30 per cent in carbon emissions, rather than the 20 per cent reductions already committed to, hit the right note. That would mean the UK would have to achieve a cut of 42 per cent by 2020, compared with the current British target of 34 per cent. The Prime Minister also suggested he would like to try and join the UK’s popular 10:10 campaign by cutting Parliament's by 10 per cent by 2010.

Many environmentalists were also heartened by the launch of the ‘Aviation Report’ by the Committee on Climate Change, which put forward options to the UK Government for the aviation industry for emissions at 2050 not to exceed 2005 levels. The report said that aviation policy should be based on the assumption that demand growth between now and 2050 cannot exceed 60 per cent if the UK is to meet the Government’s target.

With 60 per cent growth, passenger numbers could increase to 600 million passengers a year by 2050 from today’s 230 million without breaching its carbon targets, the report said.

“If no carbon constraints were put on aviation and we built as many airports as we wanted, growth would probably increase by 200 per cent,” said Lord Turner, chair of  the Committee on Climate Change. “So limiting to 60 per cent growth is a significant constraint.”

Low cost air travel would probably have to be curtailed to meet the targets, as well as increase in the use of high speed rail travel and more fuel efficient planes. The report also suggested higher flight taxes will be necessary to choke off demand.

But the glow of the morning wore off by mid afternoon. The Guardian’s environment correspondent John Vidal broke the story that the Danish Government has been secretly working on a draft ‘rich country’ Copenhagen agreement behind closed doors with various governments, thought to include the UK and US over previous weeks.

The leaked document shows world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document was interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

The ‘Danish text’ as it is being called, was met with furious reactions from environmental agencies and developing country negotiators, arguing it aimed to increase the power of rich countries, sideline the UN from the process, push all climate finance through the undemocratic World Bank, and abandon the Kyoto Protocol.

Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "The draft Copenhagen Agreement is profoundly destructive – it violates the principles of the UN negotiations.

"In massively expanding the con of carbon offsetting, and in handing control of new money for developing countries to the World Bank – the largest lender for fossil fuel projects on the planet – this accord would be a disaster.”

Denmark’s secrecy was “deeply disappointing,” he said as the host country was expected to be neutral. "Instead, we have Denmark colluding with other rich nations to stitch up the talks before they've even begun – and excluding representatives of developing countries, those which are the least responsible for having caused climate change, but who will suffer most if we fail to tackle it.”

Tim Jones, climate policy officer at the World Development Movement said: “The leaked document shows the extent of the bullying and strong arming tactics by rich countries. Rich countries are playing at politics of divide and rule, playing countries off against each other. There have been WTO style ‘green rooms’; small meetings, with selective invites, where secret discussions take place before new text is imposed on the negotiations."

WWF suggested that the Danish text should be considered a ‘distraction’ and not be allowed to derail the talks. "Talks must focus on the text that has so far been negotiated and not on new texts that are being negotiated in small groups,” said Kim Carstensen, leader of WWF's Global Climate Initiative.

Ed Miliband, the UK’s climate change secretary, reacted on Twitter, saying: “Shouldn't judge UK position from one article. Danish text not a British one.” 

But significant damage has been done to people’s confidence in the negotiations. At a public meeting in Manchester tonight – Miliband's final meeting before leaving for the climate talks at the weekend – he again highlighted the need for fairness in the talks in relation to developing countries. But he also warned against people being defeatest about the possible outcomes of the summit.

The UN chief said an agreement is likely between developed and developing countries on $10 billion in "short-term, fast-track" financing to help poorer countries until 2012. Financial support beyond that will be discussed at Copenhagen and beyond, he said.

Ed Miliband ended the day with a final comment, streamed live on the Department of Environment and Climate Change website from Manchester: “If you can get the 100 leaders or more of the world to genuinely say we are making commitments that add up to us peaking and then reducing emissions – then that’s something that has never been done before. We don’t have to be defeatist.

“Denial is a problem and we have to counter it but defeatism is also a problem and we have to counter. We can create a better life if we solve this and persuade our most skeptical friends.”

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Copenhagen Day Two: from warnings about global warming to fury over leaked 'text'
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