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Copenhagen Climate Conference Opens to Dire Warnings
COPENHAGEN - A landmark conference on climate change opened in Copenhagen on Monday, with grim warnings of the apocalyptic dangers for mankind if world leaders fail to agree a way to stave off global warming.
The impact on humanity of man-made drought, flood, storms and rising seas were spelt out at the start of the 12-day meeting, which will climax with more than 110 heads of state or government in attendance.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen warned that the world was looking to Copenhagen to safeguard the generations of tomorrow.
"For the next two weeks, Copenhagen will be Hopenhagen. By the end, we must be able to deliver back to the world what was granted us here today: hope for a better future," he said.
Opening ceremonies began with a short sci-fi film featuring children of the future facing an apocalypse of tempests and desert landscapes if world leaders failed to act today.
"Please help save the world," said a terrified little girl at the end of the film. Poll: Public want action
A choir of Danish youngsters then sang a plaintive song to delegates, accompanied by a brass ensemble.
The negotiation marathon gathers members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the fruit of the 1992 Rio summit.
Its rollcall of 192 nations was joined this year by Iraq and Somalia, the conference heard.
Delegates must craft a blueprint for tackling manmade "greenhouse" gases blamed for trapping solar heat and disrupting Earth's fragile climate system. Reducing carbon emissions: the options
They must also put together a funding mechanism able to channel hundreds of billions of dollars to poor nations most exposed to the effects of climate change.
If all goes well, world leaders on December 18 will agree a political deal that sets down the course of action, including a roster of national pledges.
Further negotiations are expected to take place in 2010 to fill in the details. A legally-binding treaty would take effect from the end of 2012.
Analysts, though, stress the deep gap between the demands of developing countries and the willingness of rich countries to dig both into their pockets and into their carbon emissions.
Connie Hedegaard, a Danish politician elected to chair the talks, said political will "will never be stronger."
"This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we get a new and better one -- if ever."
US President Barack Obama is hoping to push through a new deal after the United States -- the world's biggest economy -- rejected the Kyoto Protocol under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
But the US Congress is still hammering out legislation to cut emissions, and Obama's opponents have been emboldened by a scandal over hacked emails from British academics that they say raises questions on the science behind climate change.
The head of the UN's Nobel-winning panel of climate experts on Monday said he suspected the hack was an attempt to undermine his organisation.
"Given the wide-ranging nature of (climate) change that is likely to be taken in hand, some naturally find it inconvenient to accept its inevitability," Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the conference.
"The recent incident of stealing the emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia shows that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts, perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC."
Saudi Arabia's top climate negotiator told the conference that trust in climate science had been "shaken" by the leaked emails.
"The level of trust is definitely shaken, especially now that we are about to conclude an agreement that ... is going to mean sacrifices for our economies," Mohammed al-Sabban told delegates.
Sabban, whose country is oil cartel OPEC's leading producer and exporter, called for an "independent" international investigation, adding that the UN climate science body was unqualified to carry it out.
But Pachauri proudly defended the IPCC's reputation as an arena for weighing evidence fairly and said: "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal."
The Copenhagen conference venue has been declared UN territory, with about 15,000 delegates, journalists and observers attending.
More than half of all of Denmark's police force has been deployed to the capital and police warned they would act swiftly to quell any violent protests.
Across the globe, 56 newspapers published the same editorial telling their leaders to agree on action to limit temperature rises to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or risk seeing climate change "ravage our planet".