December 16, 2009
Chaos at climate conference
COPENHAGEN — The Copenhagen climate change conference appeared to be imploding from within and exploding from without on Wednesday.
Police fired tear gas, brandished batons and detained more than 200 protesters who tried to push through the security cordon around the Bella Center, as negotiations inside bogged down, for the second time this week, over differences between China and the West over emissions, funding issues and transparency.
"People around the world [are] actually expecting something to be done from us,” red-faced Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen lectured delegates from nearly 200 nations.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the highest-ranking American yet to appear at the talks, urged attendees to put aside their differences and “make Friday our day of success.”
Minutes earlier — in a surprise move that captured growing uncertainty over conference — Denmark’s climate minister, Connie Hedegaard, stepped aside as president of the conference, handing the gavel to Rasmussen, as head of the host country.
Outside, Danish police — who have been accused of heavy-handedness by human rights groups — clashed with thousands of environmental activists who descended on the complex from a nearby train station and demanded entry to the Bella Center.
BBC video showed truncheon-bearing Danish police shoving the crowd backward as protesters gasped and covered their faces to avoid breathing tear gas.
Inside the building, U.N. officials revoked the credentials of about 100 accredited members of the green group Friends of the Earth for staging a series of small protests on Tuesday.
Despite the gloom, U.S. officials told POLITICO they made incremental progress in a variety of areas during marathon sessions Tuesday night and cautioned that all previous climate conferences have experienced similar turbulence. And late Tuesday, negotiators announced a major breakthrough on a deal to preserve wetlands and forests.
Hedegaard will continue to consult parties as Rasmussen’s special assistant, and it was unclear whether the switch was pro forma, as Hedegaard claimed, or she was forced out by representatives of poor nations who had demanded her removal earlier this week.
"With so many heads of state and government having arrived, it's appropriate that the prime minister of Denmark presides," Hedegaard told the 193-nation meeting.
"However, the prime minister has appointed me as his special representative, and I will thus continue to negotiate the ... outcome with my colleagues," she said.
On Tuesday, Hedegaard made an emotional appeal for countries to put aside their differences to finalize a deal — after the G-77 bloc of developing nations accused her of trying to ram through an agreement amenable to the U.S. and other big industrialized nations.
But no sooner had Rasmussen assumed the presidency than those tensions burst out in the open again, with China, India, Bolivia, South Africa and Sudan saying they would block attempts by the Danish delegation to produce a draft text favored by most Western countries.
Minutes after taking the gavel, Rasmussen angrily denounced developing countries for seeking to delay consideration of the text, accusing them of focusing on "procedure, procedure, procedure."
He was immediately rebuked by a representative of China, a member of the G-77 bloc, who said moving forward too quickly was tantamount to "obstructionism" and a bullying attempt by the West.
"I think the matter isn't ‘procedure, procedure, procedure.’... You can't just put forth some text from the sky," the representative said.