Africa Boycott Steers UN Climate Talks
Africa Boycott Steers UN Climate Talks
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Commitments on greenhouse-gas emissions cuts will be the focus of the remaining few days of a U.N. climate conference in Barcelona.  African delegates pulled out of talks Tuesday to protest developed countries' failure to set concrete emissions goals.

Delegates in Spain hit a major stumbling block Tuesday when the African group pulled out of some climate talks, saying rich nations are not doing enough to tackle climate change.  They said developed nations had to set targets to curb greenhouse-gas emissions before they would negotiate on other issues.

In response, European Union and other Kyoto Protocol member countries agreed to allocate more time to discussing emissions cuts.

Mike Shanahan is from the London-based research group International Institute for Environment and Development.

"And now what has happened is that the negotiators from all of the countries have agreed, O.K. we have to focus on these numbers," said Mike Shanahan. "So for the rest of the week in Barcelona that is going to be the dominant issue in that strand of the negotiations."

The talks taking place this week in Barcelona will be the last before a major U.N. summit in December where delegates will hash out a new deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

At the U.N.-sponsored forum in Japan in 1997 rich countries agreed to cut emissions by up to 15 percent by 2020.  The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and the current talks are aimed at setting in place new legally binding emissions targets for the decade to come.  

In a news conference late Tuesday, developing countries demanded rich countries commit to a 40-percent overall cut on emissions.

But developed countries are falling well short of that target right now.  And in London, the U.N. Secretary General said world leaders are not likely to agree to a new climate change pact at the December summit in Copenhagen.

Shanahan says one of the major stumbling blocks is the United States.  It is the only developed country not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is still resisting a legally binding international deal.

"We have 192 countries in the framework convention on climate change and one of them wants to have separate rules," he said. "So until we can overcome that stumbling block I think there is a bit of an issue."

Shanahan says since the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama the country has shifted its climate policy.  Mr. Obama has pledged support for a new climate treaty.

But Shanahan says emissions cuts are not the only climate issue affecting developing countries.

"The next thing is to work out how technology can be transferred from rich countries to poor countries and this will involve things like investment in renewable energy, investment in wind power and solar, investment in more efficient power stations," said Shanahan. "And it makes sense to do this because it will be cheaper to cut emissions in a developing country than it will be in a Western country and it also means that we can more cooperatively work together on this global challenge."

Last week, EU leaders agreed developing countries will need about $100 billion a year to cope with climate change.  But the European bloc did not commit to any sums and said the amount the European Union would provide will depend on financial commitments by other countries.

Shanahan says the money will have to be found.

"They are quite scary figures for people who are not used to dealing with these numbers," he said. "But they are actually very small when you look at the numbers that were spent bailing out the banks during this economic crisis.  So the money is available somewhere if the priority is decided that tackling climate change is what we have to do."

Africa, with already severe weather conditions and a poor population largely dependent on subsistence farming, is considered to be the continent most threatened by climate change.

Aid groups say 23 million people face starvation in East Africa because of a relentless drought some scientists say may be a result of climate change.