Anger and frustration at Copenhagen talks collapse

By staff writers
December 19, 2009

China has been accused by campaigners, analysts and heads of state of being the chief culprit in scuppering an effective deal to tackle global warming at the Copenhagen summit.

Though US President Barack Obama and the US delegation have been doing their best to talk up the deal on the table as “unprecedented”, the absence of a mandatory timetable, of verification procedures, and of individual accountable targets for specific nations make it unenforceable in reality.

The hope now is that these issues can be re-addressed over the coming year, during which time it had previously been anticipated that the world would be moving towards a binding agreement.

However, the deep divisions between rich and poor nations surfaced again and again as the Copenhagen talks proceeded – with development and environment campaigners accusing the wealthy countries of bucking their responsibility towards those who will be the most vulnerable from climate change about 2 degrees.

The last day of negotiations in the Danish capital descended into an unseemly series of arguments and walkouts, as heads of state took exception to each other and appointed junior replacements while they went away to nurse their wounded pride.

The future of the planet got short shrift from all this preening and posturing, say observers.

The Chinese premier, in particular, was infuriated by President Obama’s call for verification inspections on carbon emission reductions, seeing it as an insult to his nation – which is now the largest producer of these emissions, as it rapidly and continuously industrialises.

It has been suggested that Mr Obama got the style of his intervention wrong in cultural terms, not understanding the extent to which ‘not losing face’ is central to the Chinese outlook. His ‘straight talking’ approach is popular with some, but unacceptable to others.

However analysts say that, politically and economically, China had already set its face against a properly enforceable agreement and would have been unlikely to respond even to a more emollient approach at this particular juncture.

The Chinese state-controlled media is now seeking to blame others for the Copenhagen crunch, and to present the country as instrumental in a meaningful deal despite unreasonable terms from the US and others.

Meanwhile, there was also anger at what one green campaigner called the “childish and petulant” behaviour of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who both indulged in name-calling towards Mr Obama before leaving the summit.

Obama, in turn, was frustrated at having to deal with junior Chinese delegates in the absence of the Premier and senior officials, and was heard to remark that “it would be good to deal with someone who was able to take political decisions.”

Climate activists are now assessing the damage and disappointment from the talks, in order to calculate which pressure points popular campaigning needs to be focussed on, to try to pull the word’s reluctant governors into more responsible and effective behaviour over the coming months.

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