Poor Nations End Boycott of Climate Talks

Last Updated 1:27 p.m. EDT

Poor countries ended a temporary boycott of the U.N. climate talks Monday after getting assurances that rich nations were not conspiring to reduce their commitments to cutting greenhouse gases, European officials said.

Informal talks resolved the impasse between rich and poor nations and ended the daylong boycott, which was started by African countries and backed by 135 developing countries including China and India.

The boycott disrupted efforts to forge a pact on global warming, delaying the frantic work of negotiators who are trying to resolve technical issues before more than 110 world leaders arrive in Copenhagen later in the week. It appeared aimed at shifting the focus of the U.N. climate talks to the responsibilities of industrial countries and making greenhouse gas emission cuts the first item for the leaders to discuss.

Andreas Carlgren, the European Union environment spokesman, said both rich and poor nations "found a reasonable solution." Developing countries agreed to return to all negotiating groups that they had abandoned earlier Monday, said Anders Frandsen, a spokesman for conference president Connie Hedegaard of Denmark.

The developing countries want to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposed penalties on rich nations if they did not comply with its strict emissions limits but made no such binding demands on developing nations.

"We are really prepared to discuss all issues in the negotiations. It means also absolutely all issues under the Kyoto Protocol," Carlgren said.

The dispute came as the conference entered its second and critical week. Poor countries, supported by China, said Hedegaard had raised suspicion that the conference was likely to kill the Kyoto Protocol.

The United States had withdrawn from Kyoto over concerns that it would harm the U.S. economy and that China, India and other major greenhouse gas emitters were not required to take action. China is now the world's largest greenhouse gas polluter.

"We are seeing the death of the Kyoto Protocol," said Djemouai Kamel of Algeria, the head of the 50-nation Africa group.

An African delegate said developing countries decided to block the negotiations at a meeting hours before the conference was to resume Monday. He said applause broke out every time China, India or another country supported the proposal to stall the talks.

"This is all part of the negotiating dynamic, especially as you get closer to the end game," said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Fund.

Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the dispute was a setback to negotiations.

"We have lost some time. There is no doubt about that," Prentice said. "It is not particularly helpful, but all in all it is our responsibility to get on with it and continue to negotiate."

Scientists say global warming will cause problems worldwide, including rising seas, melting glaciers, more drought, more extreme weather and the extinction of some species.

A report released today at the conference said new data shows that - more than double the amount predicted in the 2007 report published by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Former Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate
change, said new data suggests the Arctic polar ice cap may disappear in the summertime as soon as five to seven years from now.

In Washington, The White House on Monday announced a new program drawing funds from international partners to spend $350 million over five years to give developing nations clean energy technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming.

The program will distribute solar power alternatives for homes, including sun-powered lanterns, supply cleaner equipment and appliances and work to develop renewable energy systems in the world's poorer nations.

The funding plan grew out of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) established among the world's top economies earlier this year.

The U.S. share of the program will amount to $85 million with the remainder coming from Australia, Britain, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, the White House said in a statement.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Energy Secretary Steven Chu is to coordinate with partners in the group to insure immediate action on the program.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said he would arrive in Copenhagen on Tuesday - two days earlier than previously planned - in an attempt to inject momentum into the climate talks.

"His view is that these negotiations can't wait until the last minute. He believes that we have learnt the lessons from the G-20, that it takes leadership to get involved and try to pull together what is required as soon as possible," Brown's spokesman Simon Lewis told reporters in London.

Lewis denied that Brown - facing a national election by June - was seeking to personal credit if a deal is struck. "He is not seeking to push himself forward, but he has taken a personal view that it is important that, if world leaders can, they should get there early," the spokesman said.

Earlier Monday, British Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said it's up to him and his counterparts in Copenhagen to help bridge that gap between rich and poor countries and "not to leave everything" to the world leaders.

"There are still difficult issues of process and substance that we have to overcome in the coming days," Miliband said. "Can we get the emission cuts we need? We need higher ambition from others and we will be pushing for that."

In downtown Copenhagen today, police detained about 20 people among 3,000 climate activists protesting outside Parliament.

More than 1,200 others were detained in weekend protests, although almost all were released after questioning. About a dozen were arraigned on preliminary charges of assaulting police officers or carrying sharp objects.

Police spokesman Henrik Moeller Jakobsen said 12 cars were set on fire overnight Monday, and vandals also smashed windows and threw red paint at the headquarters of the Danish Immigration Service. It was not immediately clear whether those attacks were related to the climate conference.

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United Nations Climate Conference (COP-15) December 7-18, 2009