The Copenhagen climate talks hit trouble tonight as a number of African countries indicated their leaders would refuse to take part in the final summit unless significant progress was made in the next three days.
The showdown between rich and poor countries came as ministers began arriving in Copenhagen to take over negotiations. However, negotiators failed to reach agreement in key areas such as emission cuts, long-term finance and when poor countries should start to reduce emissions.
More than 110 heads of state, mainly from developing countries, are due to begin arriving on Thursday for an intense 24 hours of final negotiations. Delegates hope for a deal on Friday that will ensure temperatures do not rise by more than 2C, and that hundreds of billions of pounds is pledged to help poor countries adapt to climate change. But tonight it appeared that many did not want to risk being pressured into signing an agreement they believe would be against their national interests.
“The industrialised countries want to hammer out a large part of the deal on the last day, when the heads of state arrive,” one senior African negotiator told the Guardian on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a ploy to slip through provisions that are not amenable to developing country efforts. It’s playing dirty.”
One added: “It is as serious a situation as it ever has been. It is more than probable many heads of state will not come if the negotiations are not complete. Why should a head of state come to sign an agreement that is basically a non-agreement?”
High level Chinese and Indian representatives indicated they would be in Copenhagen, but they made clear they wanted key points agreed before they arrive. They also appear desperate to avoid a situation where western leaders jet in and steamroller the main points on the last day of the conference.
Su Wei, China‘s top climate negotiator, said he hoped there would be no outstanding issues by the time his country’s premier, Wen Jiabao, arrived. “I hope the only question we will leave for leaders is how to pronounce Copenhagen.”
Indian representatives also said their prime minister, Manmohan Singh, would come to the summit, but emphasised the urgency of having negotiators produce a text in advance.
Jairam Ramesh, India‘s environment minister, said: “We are saying that heads of state should not be negotiating a draft text. We must have a draft text already finalised. The heads of state should come to leave their imprint on the deal.”
The UK’s climate secretary, Ed Miliband, conceded there was some way to go before a workable deal was reached. “We’re now getting close to midnight in this negotiation and we need to act like it. That means more urgency to solve problems, not just identify them.”
One key point of contention is the US and EU insistence that emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil agree to peak their emissions by 2020. Developing countries argue that this would lock them into poverty.
Analysts say such hard driving tactics are typical of negotiations, but they resonate even more at the climate change talks, which are based on the idea that all 192 countries sign off on any agreement.
“This is a consensus process,” said Janos Pastor, who heads Ban Ki-Moon’s climate change team. “If they are really meaning that they are going to boycott, and if they are going to do that, it’s serious. It would be a pity if a conflict meant that we don’t reach an agreement.”
Rob Bradley from the World Resource Institute, said: “Nobody wants to have their prime minister arrive and then inform them they did not strike a deal to talk about. I can certainly imagine that some of those thinking that a deal is going to look bad for them are going to try to persuade their prime ministers from coming.”