Chaos greets new climate pact

2009-12-19 09:52


Chaos and farce reigned at the birth of a climate accord agreed by

a clique of leaders, with statesmen going missing, critics crying foul and hacks

stampeding on vain hunts for Barack Obama.

Fatigue fermented a feverish cocktail of human emotion overnight on

Friday as the US president claimed to have staved off a default in the dying

hours of global warming talks in Copenhagen.

But small nations like Cuba and Nicaragua erupted in fury at being

snubbed in a game of big power diplomatic chess also involving developing giants

Brazil, China and India.

Claiming a “meaningful” deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions,

Obama fired up carbon-belching Air Force One and raced back from the global

warming summit to outrun a storm ironically tipped to dump a foot of snow on


It was a stunning turnaround, as earlier, as the summit went into

extra time, the whole project was on the verge of collapse, US officials


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd added: “There was a grave risk

that these negotiations would collapse altogether.”

While Obama’s team clearly had an interest in spinning the climax

of the talks to the young US president’s advantage, they revealed a stunning

succession of events more apt to a French farce than a major world summit.

Frustrated by a deadlock in the talks, largely over China’s refusal

to accept a transparency regime to monitor developing states’ emissions, Obama

vowed to have “one more run at getting this done,” a senior aide on Air Force

One said.

Desperate for a foreign policy win, Obama drew the line when a

comparatively minor Chinese official, Yu Qingtai, an expert on climate change

talks, showed up to a multilateral meeting instead of Chinese premier Wen


“I don’t want to mess around with this any more, I just want to

talk with Premier Wen,” a senior aide quoted Obama as saying.

Obama also decided he wanted to speak to leaders of major

developing powers in China’s camp.

So he dispatched his advance team to find Indian Prime Minister

Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and South African

President Jacob Zuma.

One problem: US aides were told that Singh was already at the

airport, probably believing the talks were done.

“The team basically tells the South Africans that at this point the

Brazilians are unclear about meeting without the Indians, the Indians are at the

airport, and Zuma at that point says, well, if they’re not coming I can’t do

this,’” said the US official.

Soon, Wen’s team came on line and said they were ready to meet


Obama’s advance men headed off to scope out the room in the

cavernous Bella Centre where the talks were taking place, but could not get


“We’ve now figured out why we can’t get into that room – because

that room has Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma in it,” the official said. “They’re all

having a meeting.”

Obama, according to reporters close to his side as he strode

towards the talks, headed straight in.

“Mr Premier, are you ready to see me? Are you ready? Obama


US officials insisted the president did not barge in univited on

the surprise meeting, but was merely arriving on time for his talks with


“We weren’t crashing a meeting – we were going for our bilateral

meeting ... when we found the other people there.”

At this point a near scuffle broke out after Chinese cameramen made

a rush for a shot of all the leaders together.

“My people” have to get into the room, “or we’re leaving” said

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in an unusual role as defender of the US


Downstairs, waves of reporters, cameramen and photographers started

to surge through the conference centre as rumours ran riot that Obama was about

to give a dramatic press conference.

But Obama’s small corps of travelling press was already salted away

in a makeshift television studio fashioned from black curtains in a deserted

shopping mall with half-dressed mannequins just out of sight.

The president declared the non-binding pact unprecedented and

historic, though short of what must be done to tame global warming.

Shellshocked delegates were left to digest the implications of the

non-binding deal, with vague promises to cut emissions, in an all-night plenary

session of the Conference of Parties.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen was in the chair, but

at times the late night talks descended into incoherence.

“The United States abstained, then I passed the floor to

Nicaragua,” Rasmussen said, confused by a breakdown of the session.

“Nicaragua abstains .... who wants to speak?” he was left saying.

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