WikiLeaks adds twist to climate hopes

CANCUN, Mexico (AFP) – Climate negotiators Monday hailed a brighter mood in often torturous global talks, but disclosures by WikiLeaks of hard-nosed behind-the-scenes diplomacy threatened to reopen fissures.

(AFP) Members of WWF make a representation of the Earth with lit candles on a beach in Cancun.
(AFP) Members of WWF make a representation of the Earth with lit candles on a beach in Cancun.

A two-week session in the Mexican resort of Cancun is looking to make incremental progress toward a new treaty to fight climate change, which UN scientists warn threatens severe effects for the planet if unchecked.

The main negotiations are set to open Tuesday, but participants said they have already seen surprising progress in drafting a statement on future action and on measures to curb deforestation, a major contributor to global warming.

"It's clear we're in a much better place this year than we were a year ago at the mid-point in Copenhagen," said Tim Gore of Oxfam International, referring to last year's much-criticized summit in the Danish capital.

"We can be cautiously optimistic about getting a meaningful agreement here in Cancun," he said.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that "generally some progress was made" and a final agreement in Cancun "was within reach."

"But I have to say that we are also concerned because the texts are not ready to be used by ministers to finalize their deal," she said, saying they were "still much too complicated."

With few expecting a treaty by the time the Kyoto Protocol's requirements run out at the end of 2012, the European Union has led calls to extend the landmark treaty.

The EU position has triggered protests from Japan. It says Kyoto is unfair by not involving the two top polluters -- China, which has no requirements as a developing country, and the United States, which rejected the treaty in 2001.

The Copenhagen accord calls on all major emitters to cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming with a view to checking global warming at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

WikiLeaks, the controversial website which obtained secret US diplomatic correspondence, released memos that showed the United States and European Union working together aggressively to sell the Copenhagen deal.

Most major emitters including China eventually associated themselves with the Copenhagen accord, although some questioned how much legal weight it carries.

In one cable, reported by the British newspaper The Guardian, Hedegaard is quoted as telling a US official that small island nations "could be our best allies" as they need financial assistance from wealthy states.

The goal would be to step up pressure on developing countries such as India and Brazil to sign up. Such emerging powers have taken growing action on climate change but stated adamantly that the measure are voluntary and that rich nations bear historic responsibility for the problem.

A leaked cable also said the European Union and United States looked at ways to "neutralize, co-opt or marginalize" countries seen as "unhelpful" -- particularly Venezuela and Bolivia, which have raised persistent objections during climate negotiations on issues both of substance and process.

Asked about the leaks, Hedegaard -- a Dane closely involved in the Copenhagen summit -- said that the cables offered a "one-sided and selected" US account of conversations.

She denied any untoward pressure toward the most vulnerable nations such as Maldives, saying: "For many reasons we want to work very much with them."

Hedegaard said she did not believe the disclosures would hurt the Cancun talks, saying everyone knows "that you discuss a lot of things" in negotiations.

But Bolivian negotiator Pablo Solon said he was "greatly concerned" by the disclosures.

The cables "confirm what we've always been saying and the United States has been denying: the interference, pressure and blackmail regrettably conducted by the US administration," he said.

President Barack Obama's administration believes that strong and binding action by China is crucial to persuading US lawmakers to move ahead on action against climate change.

But the United States looks unlikely to approve a nationwide carbon reduction plan anytime soon after the rival Republican Party made important gains in the November congressional elections.

Many Republican lawmakers believe that binding cuts in carbon emissions would hurt a vulnerable economy and some Republicans doubt the science behind climate change.

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