Climate talks on brink of failure as time runs out

Gordon Brown holds series of meetings in desperate bid to help salvage deal

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Gordon Brown was last night engaged in a major round of shuttle diplomacy to try to save the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, which yesterday became bogged down in intense procedural wrangles.

The Prime Minister held more than a dozen meetings with other world leaders In the centre of the Danish capital. The talks lasted through the day and into the evening as they sought common ground on which a new international treaty to combat global warming can be agreed.

The talks themselves, being held in the city's Bella Centre four miles away, looked dangerously stuck last night – and this morning there are only 24 hours left to secure an agreement before the 120 heads of state, who have come to Copenhagen to shake hands on it, have to fly home.

Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who is leading negotiations for Britain at the Bella Centre, said last night that the talks position was "very dangerous at the moment". Referring to hold-ups lasting hours, caused by a series of points of order on the conference floor, he said: "If this agreement were to fail because of issues of substance it would be a tragedy, but if it were to fail because of issues of process it would be a farce."

He added: "If we fail, people all over the world will be furious and they will be right to be furious."

In the city centre, Mr Brown was trying to focus on the big picture with a series of one-to-one meetings with national leaders, concentrating on smaller states likely to be affected earliest by sea-level rise and other manifestations of climate change. Among others, he saw the prime ministers of Guyana, the Maldives, Trinidad and Tobago and Papua New Guinea, and also the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, who has put forward a multi-billion dollar plan to help developing countries deal with the climate threat. Mr Zenawi laid his plan before the conference yesterday in his speech from the podium.

Mr Brown thinks the multi-billion dollar carrot of a vast new climate fund for poor countries may be the way to break the deadlock, and with President Sarkozy of France has welcomed the Zenawi plan, in the hope that it may secure the agreement of many of the African nations.

Later, Mr Brown met Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is the joint author of the climate Bill going through the US Senate which has allowed Barack Obama to pledge that the US will cut its carbon emissions by 2020. Mr Brown also spoke twice to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who was quoted earlier yesterday as saying that he did not think there was a prospect of a deal on long-term climate finance. After his meetings with Mr Brown, Mr Ban was much more positive about a financial agreement.

"I think the Secretary General accepts now that a long-term finance deal, that he thought impossible yesterday, is something that can now be done," Mr Brown said. "Every country on every continent has now got to make a contribution to this. I hope to see the fruits of what we are doing tomorrow. I believe we can make a breakthrough."

Over at the Bella Centre, Mr Miliband was less optimistic. Negotiations on the two agreed draft texts which are to be the basis of an agreement were held up all afternoon after the chairman of the conference, the Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, proposed introducing new text. China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Sudan lined up one after another to object with points of order and the meeting was suspended.

Behind developing countries' objections lies the fear that the rich countries want to do away in the ultimate agreement with the existing climate-change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol. They are attached to Kyoto as it commits the rich countries to make legally binding cuts in their greenhouse has emissions, while committing them to nothing.

Last night, it was announced that Britain had agreed at the talks with Australia, France, Japan, Norway and the US to start a major new fund for the purpose of slowing, halting and eventually reversing deforestation in developing countries, as long as there is "an ambitious and comprehensive" outcome in Copenhagen.

An initial "fast start" amount of $3.5bn would be made available, the countries said in a joint statement. Welcoming the announcement, Mr Brown said deforestation accounted for almost a fifth of global emissions, and the forests of the rainforest nations provided a global service in soaking up the pollution of the world.

"Unless action is taken, these forests could be lost forever, impacting not only the global climate but on the livelihoods of 90 per cent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty who rely on forest resources for their survival," he added.

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