Danish PM takes direct control of climate talks

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The Independent Online

The Danish prime minister today took direct control of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen as efforts were ramped up to secure a new deal on global warming.

As tense negotiations continued between countries in the Danish capital, the UN said Lars Lokke Rasmussen today took over the high-level segment of the talks which will be attended by 115 heads of state and government over the next few days.

Downing Street sources said the replacement of conference president Connie Hedegaard with the prime minister earlier than planned ahead of the leaders' summit was agreed at tactics talks between Prime Minster Gordon Brown, Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and Mr Lokke Rasmussen last night.

Mr Lokke Rasmussen said the historical will shown by leaders to address the climate challenge was "the strongest possible driver for a global agreement".

"The final negotiations will be tense and strenuous. I have therefore asked minister Connie Hedegaard to continue to negotiate the Copenhagen outcome with her colleagues," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "This is a planned procedural handover to the Danish Prime Minister at the start of the high level segment.

"Prime minister Rasmussen has been closely engaged in this process talking to fellow leaders over the past few months, and he will now be taking the negotiations through to the end game."

Ms Hedegaard said: "With so many heads of state and governments arriving to give their statements it is appropriate that the Danish prime minister presides. Negotiations and consultations will be conducted at all levels."

And she added: "Leaders work, ministers work, and negotiators work to reach a global agreement. Let's get it done."

As soon as Mr Lokke Rasmussen took the chair in the negotiations, he was faced with angry delegates from countries including China, Bolivia, India, South Africa and the G77 group of developing nations, who are concerned at attempts by the Danish to combine all the talks into one single agreement.

Developing countries do not want to see the current twin-track process - with negotiations on the next phase of the existing Kyoto protocol taking place alongside discussions of a wider agreement, including action on emissions by the US and China - ditched in favour of a single text.

The latest twist in the negotiations highlighted the problems still faced by delegates attempting to agree a new political deal on cutting emissions and providing finance for poor countries in the fight against global warming.

Earlier Mr Brown, who is holding meetings with representatives of various countries in Copenhagen today, admitted that getting a deal was "an uphill struggle".

"There are huge barriers, but they are not insurmountable, and I believe that - I have got some experience in dealing with these big negotiations - but this is probably the toughest that we have had because they are so complex, involving so many countries," he said.

Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said that any deal would need to include "clear proposals" for financing action in poorer states beyond the fast-track money already promised.

Demands for long-term finance from developing nations to help them adopt green technology and protect against the effects of climate change are a serious sticking point in efforts to get a deal.

Mr Miliband said he could not predict what figure, if any, could come forward.

"But it is important to have clear proposals beyond fast start."

Britain has pledged £1.5 billion over the next three years as part of a wider "fast-start" injection to kick start anti-global warming measures.

But although Mr Brown has signalled a commitment to longer-term finance - much of which he hopes would come from the private sector and a global carbon market - no figure has yet been attached.

Mr Brown played down the significance of the change of president, saying that while it was discussed at last night's meeting, there was "nothing unanticipated" about the move.

"He (Mr Rasmussen) told me that this was indeed planned for some time," he said.