Rocky start for Barcelona climate talks as 50 African nations threaten boycott

By Aaron Wiener

U.N. climate change talks in Barcelona have gotten off to a rocky start, with around 50 African nations boycotting meetings in protest of the low emissions reduction targets set by the world’s developed countries.

Representatives of the African nations were concerned that industrialized countries would try to “kill Kyoto” and renege on their 1997 pledge to lead the way with deep carbon emissions cuts. The disagreements, which led several meetings today to be canceled, centered on technical considerations related to emissions regulation, including new gases to be restricted and international offsets to invest in clean energy in developing nations.

“Africa believes that the other groups are not taking talks seriously enough, not urgently enough,” Kabeya Tshikuku of the Democratic Republic of Congo delegation told Reuters.

But Alf Wills, who is leading the South African delegation, added, “They’ve not walked out. They’re saying let’s focus on the real issues, which is targets for developed countries.”

None of the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases has committed to the kind of deep reductions urged by the developing world. According to scientists, emissions cuts of up to 40 percent by 2020 (relative to 1990 levels) may be necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change in the world’s poorer countries. That’s well beyond the 20 percent promised by the European Union and the 25 percent sought by Japan’s new prime minister. And in the United States, the world’s top historical emitter, legislation calling for a 17- to 20-percent cut is facing steep resistance from lawmakers who deny the existence of climate change or worry about the economic impact of regulation.

Delegates are now negotiating to end the African boycott, which threatens to impede the progress of an international climate agreement in Copenhagen next month.


Aaron Wiener is assistant editor of The Washington Independent, where he reports on energy and climate policy.