The Indian Environment Minister had just pulled out of a crucial meeting with Australia’s Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, aimed at breaking the deadlock in the climate talks.
Senator Wong said she did not know why Mr Ramesh pulled out of the crucial meeting. “You will have to ask him,” she said.
Mr Ramesh told the Herald he had not “pulled out” but said he was unfortunately “too busy” to hold the meeting with Senator Wong and spend three hours co-chairing a meeting with her.
“Penny Wong remains a good friend of mine, a very valued colleague,” he said, but he made it clear he would not be co-operating in a session with her to try to break the deadlock even after a request from the Danish head of the United Nations conference, Connie Hedegaard.
Australia is heavily backing efforts by its allies, the United States, Japan and Europe, to force China, India and the developing nations to sign an agreement to curb their emissions that will lead to a legal treaty on climate change.
At the same time, the wealthy nations have stalled talks on ambitious cuts in emissions by them under the Kyoto Protocol until there is progress from China and India on the new agreement.
In an effort to bring both sides together Ms Hedegaard asked Senator Wong and Mr Ramesh to find a way for the big developing countries – China, India and Brazil – to reduce their emissions and lock those efforts into a new treaty.
With that effort under question, it is unclear how the fraught negotiations will proceed.
As 120 world leaders arrive in Copenhagen to sign a deal on climate change, concerns are growing that only a weak outcome is likely.
On Monday the G77 group of developing nations backed by China, India and Brazil walked out of a side set of talks to show their anger at a decision by rich countries to stall discussion of their emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, the legal treaty that binds them at present.
In what Oxfam labelled a tit-for-tat exercise, Australia’s negotiators then shut down the talks on emission cuts for rich countries.
In the rancour that followed, Ms Hedegaard worked out a compromise, allotting a pairing of developed and developing nations to discuss the key issues.
But after Senator Wong and Mr Ramesh were slotted to discuss the most thorny issue of the developing country emissions reductions, the pairing broke down. Senator Wong said it was “regrettable that there are some who are willing to fight about process rather than negotiate about substance when what is asked of us requires so much more”.
With Australia and its allies coming under intense attack over claims they want to “kill” the Kyoto Protocol, Senator Wong attempted to offer lukewarm support for it.
“I wanted to make very clear there is a lot in the Kyoto Protocol which is good; there is a lot that we need to build on.
“But if we are going to tackle climate change we need to do much more. We need to do what is in the Kyoto Protocol and we need to go further.”
The UN’s senior climate official, Yvo de Boer, and Ms Hedegaard repeated that the Kyoto Protocol and the new agreement had to be discussed and included in any agreement from Copenhagen on Friday.
The chief negotiator of the G77, Lumumba Di-Aping, from Sudan, said the developing countries had “won” the debate on keeping the Kyoto Protocol alive.
But members of environment groups now believe the prospects are shrinking that rich nations will come up with an ambitious set of targets to cut their emissions by between 25 per cent and 40 per cent by 2020, leaving political leaders to pull off a compromise by signing a weak agreement at the end of this week.
Marcelo Furtado of Greenpeace said: “What we have here is a crime scene set up for leaders to solve.”