Police lines block a demonstration from advancing towards the center of Copenhagen Friday. The largest and most important U.N. climate change conference is underway in Copenhagen

At UN climate talks, wealthy nations asked to cut greenhouse gases drastically

Wealthy nations would commit to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, and the world should strive to nearly eliminate them — or at least cut them in half — by 2050 under a draft text circulated Friday at the U.N. climate talks.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Wealthy nations would commit to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, and the world should strive to nearly eliminate them — or at least cut them in half — by 2050 under a draft text circulated Friday at the U.N. climate talks.

The draft pulled together the main elements of a global pact that 192 nations have been negotiating for two years, but left numbers on financing and cutting greenhouse gas emissions — perhaps the most contentious bargaining issues — for world leaders to hammer out next week.

The draft accord said all countries together should reduce emissions by 50 per cent to 95 per cent by 2050, and rich countries should cut emissions by 25 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020, in both cases using 1990 as the baseline year.

It was meant to focus attention on the broad goals the world must achieve to avoid irreversible change in climate that scientists say could bring many species to extinction and cause upheavals in many parts of the Earth.

“It’s time to begin to focus on the big picture,” said Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official. “The serious discussion on finance and targets has begun.”

Meanwhile, a spat developed between the world’s two top polluters as China’s Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei lashed out Friday at the top U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern.

In unusually blunt language, He said Stern either “lacks common sense” or was “extremely irresponsible” for saying that no U.S. climate funding should be going to China. The two world rivals have been exchanging barbs this week about the sincerity of their pledges to fight climate change.

In China’s view, the U.S. and other rich countries have a heavy historical responsibility to cut emissions and any climate deal should take into account a country’s development level.

China, the world’s largest polluter, is grouped with the developing nations at the talks. But Stern said the U.S. doesn’t consider China one of the neediest countries when it comes to giving those nations financial aid.

“I don’t envision public funds — certainly not from the United States going to China,” he said.

The Chinese official said China wasn’t asking for money, but suggested the U.S. and China had different responsibilities in dealing with global warming.

So far, pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the industrial countries have amounted to far less than the minimum. But the European Union, at a summit Friday in Brussels, said it was raising its 2020 target to 30 per cent from 20 per cent, in a gambit intended to push other wealthy nations to deepen their emissions-reduction pledges next week.

The six-page draft document distilled a much-disputed 180-page negotiating text, laying out the obligations of industrial and developing countries in curbing the growth of gases responsible for global warming.

News of the document came as the European Union leaders agreed in Brussels to commit $3.6 billion (C2.4 billion) a year until 2012 to a short-term fund to help poor countries cope with climate change. Most of the money came from Britain, France and Germany. Many cash-strapped former East bloc countries balked at donating but eventually all gave at least a token amount to preserve the 27-nation bloc’s unity.

The EU commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent below 1990 levels over the next decade was conditional, depending on better commitments by the United States and Canada.

The draft agreement is less specific than other proposals and attempts to bridge the divide between rich and poor countries. It leaves much to be decided by more 110 heads of state, including President Barack Obama, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and most of Europe’s top leadership, who are due to arrive in the Danish capital in one week for a landmark summit.

“This text will be the focus of the negotiations from now on,” said Jake Schmidt, an analyst for the Natural Resources Defence Council.

The draft, drawn up by Michael Zammit Cutajar of Malta, said global emissions of greenhouse gases should peak “as soon as possible.” But controlling carbon emissions should be subordinate to the effort to wipe out poverty and develop the economies of the world’s poorest nations, it said.

It called for new funding in the next three years by wealthy countries to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate, but mentioned no figures. And it made no specific proposals on long-term help for developing countries.

“That’s the gaping hole,” said Antonio Hill, of Oxfam International.

On Saturday, the conference president, Connie Hedegaard, was to prepare a report on the status of the talks.

Outside the negotiating complex in Copenhagen, police detained 40 people in the first street protests linked to the conference. About 200 people rallied in the downtown area where corporate CEOs were meeting to discuss the role of businesses in the fight against global warming/

The protesters broke into small groups, banging drums and shouting “Mind your business, this is our climate!” There were no reports of violence.

Police spokesman Henrik Moeller Nielsen said the detentions were preventative.

In Brussels, President Nicolas Sarkozy said the EU commitment of $3.6 billion a year until 2012 for a climate change fund for poor nations “puts Europe in a leadership role in Copenhagen.”

The figure was reached after two days of tough talks during which eastern EU countries — still lagging in their own development and further battered by the global economic downturn, resisted pressure to chip in. In the end, all 27 EU nations agreed to donate, but about 20 per cent is coming from Britain, France and Germany.

“There are few moments in history when nations are summoned to common decisions that will reshape the lives of men and women potentially for generations to come,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “This world deal in Copenhagen must be ambitious, global, comprehensive legally binding within six months.”

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