Leaked tapes reveal leaders' climate fight

May 5, 2010 at 4:14 PM
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BONN, Germany, May 5 (UPI) -- Leaked tapes have revealed how European and U.S. leaders clashed with counterparts from India and China during the dramatic final hours of the failed U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.

German news magazine Der Spiegel published transcripts of leaked audiotapes that reveal how U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy faced off with negotiators from India and China during a closed-door meeting of 25 leaders on the final day of the Copenhagen summit.

All leaders had received a draft version of a comprehensive climate protection treaty -- it was now up to them to negotiate concrete carbon dioxide emissions reductions targets for 2020 and 2050, numbers that were still lacking from the text.

"We just have to do it," Merkel told the leaders, who included representatives from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Even if there would be no agreement on emissions targets that day in Copenhagen, Merkel added, leaders at least had to find common ground within four weeks. "Because we cannot go home and say nice things" and concrete emissions targets have to "wait until next year or so." That's unacceptable, she added.

But India and China remained steadfast. India's negotiator said concrete emissions reduction targets shouldn't be discussed until the summit in Mexico in November.

"Then you don't want anything legally binding!" Merkel replied, only to be countered by the Indian side: "Why do you make presumptions? That is not fair!"

Once again, the Europeans tried to convince the emerging economies of the importance of concrete targets.

"I think it's important to recognize what we are trying to do here," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned. "We are trying to cut emissions by 2020 and 2050. That is the only way we can justify being here, it is the only we can justify the public money that is to be spent to do so … I think it's very important to recognize that we have to have objectives for 2020 and 2020."

When Merkel then threw in another compromise proposal -- to reduce emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent until 2020, and to halve them by 2050 -- Chinese negotiator He Yafei intervened: "Thank you for the suggestions. We've said clearly we … cannot accept … a 50 percent reduction by 2050."

That was enough for Sarkozy, who said sharply in French, "With all due respect for China, this is utterly unacceptable."

Sarkozy said the West had already committed to an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

"And China, who will soon be the biggest economy in the world, now tells the world 'these engagements are for you, not for us.' This is unacceptable. One has to react to this hypocrisy," he scoffed.

Obama entered the discussion, telling India and China that Western governments could only justify spending billions on climate protection if developing countries agreed to shoulder part of the burden.

"There is a direct correlation between these issues of concrete targets and commitments and the financing," he said. "You can't get the financing in the absence of something that tells our people that we are not in this alone."

He also expressed frustration that the Chinese prime minister was absent from the intimate talks -- Wen Jiabao had preferred to stay in his hotel room.

"I know there is a Chinese premier here, one who takes important decisions," Obama said.

China's negotiator replied that he was speaking for his government and his country. He also rebuffed Sarkozy.

"I heard President Sarkozy talk about hypocrisy. I'm trying to avoid such words," He said. "People tend to forget where this is from. In the past 200 years of industrialization, developed countries caused 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emission," he said.

"Whoever created this problem is responsible for the catastrophe we are facing."

The discussion broke down afterward and the U.N. summit ended with the publication of the so-called Copenhagen Accord, a weak declaration agreed between the United States, China, Brazil and South Africa. The accord, which wasn't adopted but merely noted by countries, lacked concrete emissions targets.

Merkel and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who hosts the next climate summit in Cancun, this week tried to revive negotiations at an informal meeting outside Bonn, Germany.

Yet the process seems stalled: Officials said they doubt that a comprehensive and legally binding treaty can emerge from Cancun.

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