"This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we got a new and better one. If we ever do." - Connie Hedegaard.
Thousands of officials, environmental campaigners, politicians and journalists arrived in the Danish capital Copenhagen yesterday to begin two weeks of negotiations that will attempt to strike a deal on curbing carbon emissions and supporting poor countries in the fight against climate change.
Welcoming the world to Copenhagen Connie Hedegaard, the conference president and Denmark’s former climate minister delivered a simple warning that the next 14 days would determine the future of the planet. She said: "This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we got a new and better one. If we ever do."
The UN’s chief climate official Yvo de Boer said the negotiations will only be a success if they deliver ‘’significant and immediate action’’ on global warming. "The time for formal statements is over. The time for re-stating well-known positions is past," he told delegates.
He was confident there would be a political deal at the end of the summit next week and a legally binding treaty forcing the world to reduce emissions that will be signed in June of next year.
But on the first day of the summit, divisions were evident between various blocs particularly the rich world, which causes most of the pollution and the poor world which has to live with the consequences. The small island states indicating they would not accept anything less than a legally binding deal including deep cuts in emissions.
The industrialised G8 bloc of nations and some major developing countries have adopted a target of keeping the global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times to 2C but the small island states think this would cause serious climate impacts from rising sea levels, and have been arguing for a lower target of 1.5C. A number of African nations also back the lower target.
The African Union has also threatened to walk out of the talks if industrialised countries do not agree to help poor states pay for the transition to cleaner economies.
From Britain Gordon Brown, who will attend the summit later along with other world leaders headed by US President Barack Obama, who has decided that signals from China, Brazil and other emerging nations on the possibility of a deal merit his attendance.
In Washington, the Obama administration is poised to declare carbon dioxide a public danger, sending a powerful signal that America will act on global warming – with or without a law in Congress – by 2010.
The official declaration would allow Obama to use the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions. That would avoid waiting for action from Congress, where a proposed climate change law has stalled in the Senate.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday raised the bar for the negotiations, urging world leaders to give their promises at Copenhagen the full weight of international law within six months and Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband went on the attack against climate change deniers who have tried to derail the debate in recent weeks.
Mr Miliband warned that those who argue climate change is not the result of human actions are "profoundly irresponsible". He said: "The overwhelming consensus of scientists across the world is that climate change is real and is man-made and is happening."
Mr Miliband warned the next two weeks, during which the Copenhagen talks will be attended by more than 100 world leaders and representatives of 192 countries, were "crunch time for the planet".
Mr Brown yesterday talked by telephone to Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz, and on Thursday to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and the Japanese Prime Minister as part of efforts to secure a strong deal.
Environmental activists are planning to hold protests in Copenhagen and around the world on 12 December to encourage delegates to reach the strongest possible deal.