The African delegation insisted today in Barcelona that its decision to walk out on negotiations Tuesday was necessary in order to jolt the intransigent European Union and other developed nations to move forward with serious discussions, rather than obstruct progress by bringing only lofty rhetoric and no numbers to the negotiating table. The plan seems to have worked, albeit temporarily, as negotiations resumed today about how to extend the Kyoto Protocol and forge binding agreements with the West to slash emissions and provide cash to developing nations to deal with climate shocks and facilitate clean economic development.
However, delegates from developing nations and climate campaign groups continue to report that progress has been too slow in Barcelona, setting the stage for inevitable failure in Copenhagen. Activist groups and developing world negotiators continue to press the West to pick up the pace immediately or risk failing to reach a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen next month.

Europe renewed its non-specific posturing today, at first suggesting that developed countries could still bring promises, if not numbers, to Copenhagen, but ultimately confirming that the Europe Union – and the U.S. – have no intention of entering a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen unless rapidly developing nations like China, India and Brazil are also required to cut emissions and contribute funding to help poor nations survive as the climate deteriorates.

Copenhagen is the pinnacle in a series of negotiations stretching back two years over how to create a legally binding agreement that brings the United States into the fold on the international response to climate change, and simultaneously craft the next round of targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Since the U.S. failed to join the 1997 global treaty, negotiations have proceeded under these two tracks to ensure that work can continue on emissions reductions among Kyoto signatories, while the world grapples with how to hold the U.S. accountable internationally both on greenhouse gas reductions and financial commitments to assist developing nations.

Sudanese delegate Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, who heads the G-77 plus China block, challenged Europe and the industrialized world to get serious again Wednesday in order to move the fragile talks forward.

Lumumba, whose ability to articulate the urgency and necessity of the developing world’s pleas for action on climate change is unrivaled by any other delegate present at the talks, made clear once again today that the West must bring science-based targets and an indelible ink pen to the Copenhagen negotiation table, or else Africa, low-lying island nations and indigenous peoples – the populations most vulnerable to climate change – will rapidly face death and economic ruin as the atmosphere cooks and sea levels rise.

In the G-77 press conference this afternoon, I asked Lumumba whether he was concerned by the potential domino effect of additional developed countries adopting Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s position, reported by Reuters on Monday, that a “politically binding agreement” is more likely to emerge in Copenhagen rather than a legally binding agreement. The “politically binding” sentiment seems poised to snowball among other major industrialized nations, in spirit if not yet in the same exact words.

Lumumba, in his typically graceful fashion, calmly but sternly replied to my question stating, “I do not know of anything called a politically binding agreement. If there is anything that you know about politics and political manifestos is that they are worth very little. Tell me of any politician who delivered on his political manifesto. Is it Gordon Brown[UK]? Is it Kevin Rudd[Australia]?”

False promises of politically-binding commitment without legally binding teeth will not be worth a damn to Africa and the rest of the vulnerable developing countries. As soon as one world leader from the West who signs onto such a wishy-washy agreement loses power, and their successor refuses to comply with such a non-binding agreement – an entirely possible scenario since there is no legal basis to follow through on such a commitment – the whole process would fail. Climate change would continue to punish the developing world, which would face many more years of delay while the negotiators reconvened to start over.

So only a legally binding agreement is acceptable in Copenhagen, or Africa and other vulnerable populations are doomed to death and destruction, Lumumba told me.

“What can we achieve in Barcelona? This is what we are asking developed countries. You have to live up to the ambition that saves the world. In Africa’s words, it is 40 [percent emissions reductions by 2020] minimum. Anything south of 40 means that Africa’s population, Africa’s land mass is offered destruction as the only alternative to choose from. And I think you can logically understand why the African states are very angry about that,” he said.

Yes we can, Mr. Lumumba. Yes we can.

Watch the G-77 press conference here. (I ask my question at the 8:15-9 minute mark and Lumumba responds beginning at the 16 minute mark)

Curious to hear the European response to the G-77’s clear call for a legally binding agreement, later today I asked the EU delegation to explain specifically what timeframe would be acceptable to set legally binding targets if Copenhagen fails to produce solid results and instead ends with such a politically binding (i.e. hollow) agreement, or worse still, no agreement.

It was the last question the E.U. delegation took from the press today, and provides all the clarity that Africa and the developing countries can expect from the industrialized world for now.

Artur Runge-Metzger, the chief negotiator for the European Commission, sitting next to the nodding Swedish delegate (Sweden currently holds the E.U. presidency) responded simply, “It should be as quickly as possible after Copenhagen.” (Full stop, microphones cut, end of press conference.*)

In contrast to the developing world’s clear, specific position, the E.U. seems to act as if these negotiations just started, as if talks haven’t been going on for years since Kyoto. Europe seems to project the image that it is suddenly being asked to answer this fundamental question.

In reality, Europe and the rest of the developed world have had more than ample time over the past decade to develop a clear position. But when pressed on specifics now, just weeks before the world expects a concrete treaty, they are still flailing around like fish out of water.

Much work remains to be done, and 99% of the burden rests on the E.U. and U.S. to show the rest of the world they understand the severe implications of any further delay in responding to the climate crisis. The anger from Africa and the rest of the developing world will continue to grow, as will the carbon emissions responsible for climate change.

Europe and the U.S. must stand up and be counted.

*The E.U. press conference is not online yet, but will be here tomorrow.