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In Copenhagen, Tensions Rise Inside and Outside Summit

December 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Protesters outside the Copenhagen climate change summit clashed with police on Wednesday as more than 100 world leaders made their way to the Danish capital. Negotiators continue to battle over reaching a climate agreement in the conference's waning days.
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RAY SUAREZ: The melee in the streets erupted, as hundreds of protesters tried to storm the conference hall. Danish police fired rounds of pepper spray and beat back the crowds with batons.

MAN: I was just beaten, both by hands and by sticks, and had some pepper spray in my mouth and my eyes.

RAY SUAREZ: Police reported at least 230 arrests.

Meanwhile, tensions mounted inside the summit as well. Negotiators worked through the night to hammer out a deal, with President Obama and most other world leaders scheduled to arrive on Friday.

But one of the first to arrive, Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, told the conference he agrees with the protesters: The burden is on rich nations to do more.

HUGO CHAVEZ, president, Venezuela: In the streets, they are saying the following: If the climate was a bank, you would have already saved it.

And I think that’s true. If the climate was a big capitalist bank, you would have already saved it, you, the rich governments.

RAY SUAREZ: Still, deadlock persisted on major issues: first, setting firm targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations and reining in emissions growth in the developing world; second, getting the U.S. and other rich nations to spend billions of dollars on helping poor countries adjust to global warming; and, third, verifying that emerging powers like China and India stick to their promises to cut emissions.

China’s lead negotiator charged again today developed countries are asking too much. And he said they are backsliding on the commitments they made in Kyoto, Japan, more than a dozen years ago.

YU QINGTAI, climate change envoy, China: If we look at the difficulties in negotiations, we find the additional and unreasonable requests made by some countries. They try to leave the regulations of the convention and the Kyoto protocol aside and make those unreasonable requests for developing countries.

RAY SUAREZ: Danish leaders attempted to break the deadlock by drafting a simplified agreement, but China led an effort to quash the deal. In an interview, the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, appealed to both sides to compromise.

BAN KI-MOON, secretary-general, United Nations: I would urge all developed and developing countries, they should come on board. Developed countries should come out with more ambitious mitigation targets. And, also, developing countries, they should come out with nationally appropriate mitigation action, limiting their growth of emissions.

RAY SUAREZ: U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern said, China’s cooperation is critical. The two nations are the world’s largest carbon emitters.

TODD STERN: I think that, from our point of view, you can’t even begin to have an environmentally sound agreement without the — the adequate and significant participation of China.

RAY SUAREZ: It was widely reported U.S. negotiators had refused to commit to firm pollution cuts until Congress can approve the needed legislation. A bill to reduce U.S. emissions has been pending for months in the U.S. Senate, in the face of strong opposition.

Back in Copenhagen, the president of the Maldives appealed for quick action. His island nation in the Indian Ocean is threatened by rising seas.

MOHAMED NASHEED: If we are not able to seize this opportunity, and we are not able to come to an understanding during the course of next 48 hours, I’m afraid we might very well be doomed. I hope that that is not what we are contemplating.

RAY SUAREZ: The U.N.’s Ban said he was confident there will be agreement by week’s end.

BAN KI-MOON: I’m confident that — that there will be a deal in Copenhagen, a deal that meets the needs of all the countries in addressing climate change, a deal which will be comprehensive, equitable, and fair, and also binding.

RAY SUAREZ: And, in Washington, a White House spokesman said President Obama hopes his presence will help lead to a deal, so long as it’s verifiable.

JEFFREY BROWN: Once again today, I had the chance to talk with Ray in Copenhagen. We spoke a short time ago.

JIM LEHRER: Ray, the issues you listed as part of the current deadlock, the targets, the aid, the verification, does any one of them stand out as most important, or are they somehow all tied together?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, on this day of the conference, Jeff, certainly one of the most contentious issues, just what obligations are of the most advanced industrial economies.

Those countries have set a goal for themselves of limiting their future emissions to that which would cause no more than two degrees more of global heating up.

But the poorest countries in the world respond, oh, sure, that’s fine as a global average, but, if we allow the temperature to go up another two degrees Celsius — that’s roughly 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit on average — you will be comfortable, but we will be baking. Our waters will disappear, our springs will dry up, and we are going to have to get paid a lot more money to adapt to that newer, warmer world, or you’re going to have to lower your targets to have no more than another degree-and-a-half Celsius of global warming.

It’s one of the central fights of this day of the conference.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you know, yesterday, you and I talked about the deadlock. A day later, do you sense positions hardening? Or — or are these public debating points being put forward?

RAY SUAREZ: So far, all the drafts that have been circulating around this conference have the toughest nuts to crack in brackets, meaning that they are remaining to be fully negotiated.

And, so far, it hasn’t been announced that any of the really tough stuff, whether it’s the back-and-forth between China and the United States over verification, or the amount and duration of the payments from the richest countries to the poorest, nothing has been settled in a final way that can be announced to the public.

So, if positions are hardening, I can’t say for sure, but they certainly aren’t softening in a way that’s been allowed for — that’s been allowing composite.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about the one area where there seems to be some movement, a plan to help preserve forests, particularly tropical rain forests? Tell us about that.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, this is called the REDD negotiations, for reduction of degradation and destruction of the world’s forests.

And, depending on who you talk to, it’s being described as one of the few bright spots in the negotiations. Forestry has to be negotiated, along with technology transfers and adaptation, and finance, and several of the other big areas of negotiation.

And they have had a couple of breakthroughs. And they have really been trumpeting that progress. But a lot of the NGOs that organize around forestry issues say there is really less than meets the eye in that draft document, since, again, all the toughest nuts, all the really hard bargaining that has to go on between countries over preservation of forests in the developing world, is still all remaining to be set out in details.

The document is festooned with phrases like “deemed appropriate” and “appropriate decisions by countries.” And, really, what’s appropriate remains to be hashed out.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we’re talking about what’s going on inside the hall, where you are there. We saw those pictures, and you reported on the protests outside.

Can you tell how much of that resonates inside and in — in the meetings?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you know, the — the protests from earlier in the week were pretty genial, because they were planned. The routes and locations were worked out between the authorities and the protesters.

This was something of another order altogether, high levels of confrontation between large numbers of protesters who were ready to push and shove and press against the barricades, which are being moved further and further away from the convention center where these talks are occurring, widespread use of pepper spray and batons, as we saw in the earlier report.

It was a tougher day of confrontation between protesters and police. But I have to tell you, you wouldn’t be aware of it here. The security perimeter, the fences, the barriers, the public transportation that you might use to get to this convention center, is leaving you off further and further away. So, any ruckus that occurs on the streets of Copenhagen is kept well away from this place.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, you have some world leaders there already, and you have more to come real soon, including President Obama. Besides their mere presence, what exactly is supposed to happen that may break any deadlocks?

RAY SUAREZ: There was a definite change in tone today.

Earlier in the week, people who were involved in the negotiations were talking about the impending arrival of the world leaders as both a reason to hurry along with the deliberations and as a catalyzing event which might help get things moving.

Now they’re talking about the possible embarrassment of having all these world leaders here and going home empty-handed, very, very definite change in the tenor of those remarks about what it would mean to have some of the biggest names on the planet in this convention hall.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Ray Suarez, joining us once again from Copenhagen, thanks a lot.

RAY SUAREZ: Good to talk to you, Jeff.