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Climate Talks End on Divided Note

by Alan Fisher in Barcelona

UN representatives have been working to create a draft political agreement to be presented at next month's climate change talks in Copenhagen.

Activists of anti-poverty group Oxfam wearing masks of world leaders fron left to right: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spain's Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, perform during the Climate Change Talks in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009.(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) But the lack of a legally binding deal at the five-day summit in Barcelona has left many at the talks disappointed.

With the clock ticking, this was meant to be the final step towards a global agreement. 

This gathering in Barcelona was to produce the next blueprint for the fight against climate change - the document all leaders would sign next month in Copenhagen.  Only - it hasn't - and they won't.

Behind closed doors - the splits are as wide as ever. 

Africa wants more action from richer countries - frustrated their carbon emission cuts don't go far enough. 

Augustin Njamnshi is here, lobbying for Pan African Climate, an organisation that campaigns for climate-related and equity-based development. 

He told me: "What we're asking for is that the developed countries adapt and change their way of life so that life will be much more comfortable and tolerable on earth.

"Climate change is forcing the poor people to adapt. They have no choice," he said.

Africa wants cuts of 40 per cent using 1990 emissions as the baseline.

The EU says it will commit to at least 20 per cent, perhaps going as high as 30. 

Australia, Japan and New Zealand have also set targets at a lot less than forty per cent. 

Canada is considered a joke among climate campaigners, particularly when politicians talk about cuts compared to what future emissions might be.  

And there will be no commitment from the United States until Congress discusses the issue. 

That means the best that can be hoped from Copenhagen is a political agreement. 

It's nothing legally binding, but it will be a framework for the future with all the important numbers missing. 

Slow progress

Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission's main climate negotiator, rejects the idea that the Barcelona meeting has been a failure. 

He sees it as an important step in the process.

"You will still have a result and a deal in Copenhagen that should allow implementation of emission reduction measures and adaptation measures in the time after Copenhagen. 

"So we shouldn't stop implementation because everyone in the room knows we have to do something about the problem," he said.

When I ask how long it will take for a full climate change treaty to be agreed, he talks in terms of six months to a year.

Some of the protestors here acknowledge that while not being the huge success that was being forecast a year ago, Barcelona does mark slow and steady progress to a climate change deal. 

"Better to have a good agreement in a year than a bad one now,"  is how one delegate summed up the week's events. 

"They're still talking, still moving forward," argues Duncan Marsh from the Nature Conservancy, a US-based conservation organisation.

"And there's growing evidence government leaders are engaged behind the scenes at unprecedented levels." 

Yet like others he insists there has to be a deal in months.

Global solution

Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele looks like a scientist.  And he is.  A very good one. 

He's an expert climatologist and also vice chairman of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides scientific advice to the politicians. 

He insists what is needed is a global solution. 

"Each year we are losing, in a period when we emit two times more that what natural systems can absorb, we are building up the thickness of that CO2 layer around the earth and we are buying warming in the future we could have avoided.  So time really matters."

The global financial crisis has undoubtedly hit developments here.  

Developing nations can't say how much they will cut emissions until they know how much aid they'll get. 

Richer nations won't commit to aid figures while their economies are struggling and they know how much it will cost

Outside, the campaign groups are inventive in their efforts to attract media attention. 

On Friday, it was the "green spacemen" of Greenpeace, who were demanding to be taken to the "Climate Change leader" making the point that no-one seems to be driving the discussions to a conclusion.

When the world leaders gather in Denmark next month, there will be more demonstrations. 

And if they don't give an indication that a deal is close, those protests will be louder - and angrier.

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