Day 8 in Copenhagen: The Walkout That Wasn’t

The international climate talks in Copenhagen went on life support this morning when representatives of developing nations staged a temporary boycott of the conference, but leaders worked quickly to resuscitate the negotiations.

The dispute once again centered on dissatisfaction among developing countries with the way the world’s major economies were handling the negotiating process — particularly the threat that they might scrap the Kyoto Protocol, which imposes carbon emissions limits on wealthy nations while exempting poorer ones.

Delegates from the boycotting countries didn’t shy away from theatricality in their assessment of the impasse. “The killing of the Kyoto Protocol, I can say, will mean the killing of Africa,” Mama Konaté, a member of Mali’s delegation, told The Washington Post. “Before accepting that, we should all die first.”

But it appears that Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, who is chairing the negotiations, diffused the situation in a meeting with African delegates by pledging to hand the most contentious issues off to the high-level ministers who have now arrived in Copenhagen.

Beyond the Kyoto dispute, representatives of developing countries expressed frustration with “the lack of transparency and democracy in the process” and “pathetic” offers of financial support from the European Union. The latter concern may be mitigated by a proposal, unveiled today by American Energy Secretary Steven Chu, to dedicate $350 million to clean energy technology in poorer countries. Furthermore, a Chinese official indicated today that his country would probably not require money from wealthier nations, so as not to be “an obstacle” to a deal.

As delegates threatened to walk out of the talks this morning, thousands of would-be participants braved sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures to try to get into the conference, amid much hubbub and disarray.

But for all the drama thus far in Copenhagen, there haven’t really been any major surprises, beyond the outsize role of tiny island nations in the negotiations.