South Africa blasts Copenhagen failure

South Africa says Copenhagen’s failure to produce a legally binding climate change agreement was unacceptable, joining a global chorus of condemnation even though it helped draft the final accord.

South Africa’s environment minister Buyelwa Sonjica and her two top climate change negotiators said Tuesday that part of the blame rested with the way the host guided the conference. In their first media briefing since returning from talks in the Danish capital that ended Saturday, the trio described an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion that Denmark was plotting to force its own position on other nations.

In the end, South African negotiator Joanne Yawitch said, the Danes unveiled a draft at the 11th hour that Yawitch said was “seriously problematic.” She said negotiators edited late into the night and came up with a document South Africa found more balanced, but that she felt substantive changes were unwelcome.

Her fellow negotiator Alf Wills said the resulting agreement was limited not only in terms of what it did to save the planet, but in the number of nations that accepted it, saying it did not extend beyond the 28 represented at the late-night negotiations.

Sonjica said substantive talks were hijacked by debates over how to handle the process.

“Process is important, since it determines outcomes, but some ill-restrained interventions combined with poor decisions by those guiding the process meant that process problems caused the loss of three days ? precious time indeed,” Sonjica said.

Copenhagen’s outcome was “not acceptable. It’s definitely not acceptable. It’s disappointing,” Sonjica said.

South Africa along with the U.S., India, Brazil and China drafted the climate change agreement reached in Denmark. The compromise calls for reducing emissions to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 C (3.6 F) above preindustrial levels. The nonbinding agreement also calls on rich nations to spend billions to help poor nations deal with drought and other impacts of climate change, and to develop clean energy.

Sonjica said South African President Jacob Zuma had discussed with other African leaders whether the talks should be abandoned, but it was decided it would be better to continue to try to influence the talks from inside.

“And maybe what we have now would have been worse” had there been a walk out, she said.

In the days since the talks ended, it seems no one has had much good to say about Copenhagen, resulting in some international sniping. Several nations have said the industrialized world should have committed to deeper emissions cuts.

British climate change minister Edward Miliband wrote in The Guardian newspaper Sunday that most countries ? developed and developing ? supported binding cuts in emissions, but that “some leading developing countries currently refuse to countenance this.” He singled out China.

Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Miliband’s opinion piece seemed designed to sow discord among developing nations.

EU officials have complained countries such as Nicaragua, Bolivia, Sudan and Venezuela prevented a more ambitious pact.

South Africa’s Wills said the political agreement that emerged from Copenhagen did have positive elements that can be built upon at the next round of talks, scheduled in Mexico City in 2010. Wills pointed to agreements on how the U.S. and other developed countries would record emission reduction targets, and on how emission reduction action by advanced developing countries like South Africa would be accounted for.

South Africa is the only African nation among the 20 countries that emits nearly 90 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. But while their country is more industrialized than most on the continent, the majority of South Africans are poor, some living without electricity even as the country’s coal-fired power plants contribute to global warming.

There have been suggestions that countries like South Africa could have brought more to the negotiating table in terms of committing to cutting their own emissions. Wills said such ideas amounted to “shifting the burden from those who are historically responsible for the problem to those who are not responsible.”

Yawitch said the challenge ahead will be to rebuild trust among nations that she said was damaged in Copenhagen.

“You can do the impossible,” she said, “if people trust each other.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.