Aid agencies have backed demands by African countries that the future of the Kyoto Protocol should take precedence at the UN’s Copenhagen climate change summit and that talks be focused on this issue and no other until it is resolved.
It comes after developing world countries walked out of the Copenhagen talks, leading to their suspension.
Delegations were angry at what they saw as moves by the Danish host government to sideline talks on more emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol. They said the agenda was being set and controlled by richer nations.
Nelson Muffuh, Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Change Advocacy Co-ordinator, said: "Africa has been driven to this by the lack of progress on key substantive issues such as strong mitigation targets, and the lack of offers of financial support from rich countries to poor to help them deal with climate change.
"We need far more robust emission targets from wealthy countries and much more finance.
"It is essential that the Kyoto Protocol is retained as it is the only legally binding mechanism that exists that obliges rich countries to make emission cuts.
"Rich countries need to realise that saving Kyoto is a redline issue for developing countries. If they kill Kyoto they kill Copenhagen".
Africa and the rest of the developing world fears that rich industrialised countries are preparing to abandon the protocol in an attempt to unfairly shift the burden of dealing with climate change onto developing countries.
In its place, rich countries want a new treaty that would place some of the onus for emission cuts on poorer nations.
Informal discussions at the Copenhagen conference have taken place along two tracks, one discussing the protocol, the first commitment period of which ends in 2012, and one discussing the long term action needed to counter climate change.
The Africa group is now calling for the second track to be suspended until a new commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol has been agreed.
Kamel Djemouai, lead negotiator from the group, said today: “We suspect that in one or two days, or on the 18th, they will tell us ‘we don’t have time to deal with Kyoto Protocol issues’.
“At the end they are going to try to give us a new mandate for a one track process and try to conclude a new treaty in the next six to 12 months.
“Africa is the most vulnerable continent. The Kyoto Protocol is of paramount importance to us. We can never accept the killing of the Kyoto Protocol. That would mean the killing of Africa.”
Nigerian negotiator Dr Victor Fodeke added: "Africa is on death row. Removing one of the tracks will mean that the train of hope crashes."
Sol Oyuela, CAFOD's head of climate change policy, said: "For Africa the Kyoto Protocol acts as a shield against a deal that will push them further into hardcore poverty. With the support of developing countries, Africa is right to seize this opportunity to thrust the responsibility back onto developed countries. Japan and Russia's refusal to engage on the Kyoto Protocol is sidelining the demands of the poorest nations.
"The Kyoto Protocol second commitment period must be at the heart of any legally binding outcome from Copenhagen. Removing this foundation is a step backwards for all nations, but especially for the poorest. Without this bedrock we could see a move to an agreement hammered out on the basis of self interest and backroom deals, with no concrete mechanism for compliance.
"Rich Kyoto nay-sayers who are refusing to discuss their emissions targets in the Kyoto track are undermining the legal architecture of the UN process. In this second week of Copenhagen, when ministers make way for heads of states, we must refocus on the issues that matter. Africa's decision, backed by most of the G77, to stand firm on Kyoto is clear-sighted and right-headed. It is crucial that there is progress in the Kyoto discussions before we move to the next stage."
CAFOD believes the Kyoto Protocol must be at the heart of a new climate deal and must be amended to include a second commitment period for emission cuts from developed countries.