COPENHAGEN (AP) — China, India and other developing nations boycotted U.N. climate talks Monday, bringing negotiations to a halt with their demand that rich countries discuss much deeper cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.
The move disrupted the 192-nation conference and forced the cancellation of formal working groups, delaying the frantic work of negotiators trying to resolve technical issues before the arrival of more than 110 world leaders later this week.
The developing countries want to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposed penalties on rich nations if they did not comply with its strict emissions limits but made no such binding demands on developing nations.
The boycott was largely seen as a ploy to shift the agenda to the responsibilities of the industrial countries and make emissions reductions the first item for discussion when world leaders begin arriving Tuesday.
“I don’t think the talks are falling apart, but we’re losing time,” said Kim Carstensen, of the World Wildlife Fund. The developing countries “are making a point.”
The dispute came as the conference entered its second week, and only days before more than 100 world leaders, including President Barack Obama, were scheduled to arrive in Copenhagen.
“Nothing is happening at this moment,” Zia Hoque Mukta, a delegate from Bangladesh, told The Associated Press. He said developing countries have demanded that conference president Connie Hedegaard of Denmark bring the industrial nations’ emissions targets to the top of the agenda before talks can resume.
Poor countries, supported by China, say Hedegaard had raised suspicion that the conference was likely to kill the Kyoto Protocol. The United States withdrew from Kyoto over concerns that it would harm the U.S. economy and that China, India and other major greenhouse gas emitters were not required to take action. China is now the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter.
“We are seeing the death of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Djemouai Kamel of Algeria, the head of the 50-nation Africa group.
U.N. climate chief Yvo De Boer said Hedegaard was holding informal consultations with delegates “to get things going.”
It was the second time the Africans have disrupted the climate talks. At the last round of negotiations in November, the African bloc forced a one-day suspension until wealthy countries agreed to spell out what steps they will take to reduce emissions.
“They are trying to put the pressure on” before Obama and other world leaders arrive, said Gustavo Silva-Chavez, a climate change specialist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “They want to make sure that developed countries are not left off the hook.”
An African delegate said developing countries decided to block the negotiations at a meeting hours before the conference was to resume. He said applause broke out every time China, India or another country supported the proposal to stall the talks.
“This is all part of the negotiating dynamic, especially as you get closer to the end game,” said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Fund.
In Washington, the White House announced a new program drawing funds from international partners to spend $350 million over five years to give developing nations clean energy technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming.
The program will distribute solar power alternatives for homes, including sun-powered lanterns, supply cleaner equipment and appliances and work to develop renewable energy systems in the world’s poorer nations.
The U.S. share of the program will amount to $85 million, with the rest coming from Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in Copenhagen.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office said he would go to Copenhagen on Tuesday — two days earlier than planned — to try to inject momentum into the talks. His spokesman denied that Brown — facing a national election by June — was seeking any personal credit if a deal is struck.
Former Vice President Al Gore told the conference that new data suggests a 75 percent chance the entire Arctic polar ice cap may disappear in the summertime as soon as five to seven years from now. Gore, who won a Nobel Peace prize for his work on climate change, joined the foreign ministers of Norway and Denmark in presenting two new reports on melting Arctic ice.
Throngs of newly arrived delegates, journalists and climate activists jammed the security and accreditation lines at the conference center Monday, forcing police to shut down the nearby subway stop.
Hundreds of police kept a close watch on a protest outside Parliament, where about 3,000 climate activists were demonstrating.
More than 1,200 people were detained in weekend protests, although almost all were released after questioning. About a dozen were arraigned on preliminary charges of assaulting police officers or carrying box-cutters or other sharp objects.
There were sporadic reports of vandalism across the city overnight Monday.
Police spokesman Henrik Moeller Jakobsen said 12 cars had been set on fire, including three vehicles belonging to Danish power company Dong Energy. Vandals also smashed windows and threw red paint at the headquarters of the Danish Immigration Service. It was not immediately clear whether those attacks were related to the conference.