Negotiations among more than 190 countries meeting in Barcelona to address climate change continued today, but only on certain matters, as delegates from 50 African nations collectively shut down the talks about how to extend the Kyoto Protocol when the first phase of the agreement expires in 2012. Africa refuses to continue the negotiations until developed nations commit to reduce global warming emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, a target that scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic impacts from climate change.

“Africa believes that the other groups are not taking talks seriously enough, not urgently enough,” said Kabeya Tshikuku of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“People are dying now while those who are responsible historically are not willing to take action,” added Algerian delegate Kamel Djemouai.

By drawing a line in the sand, African delegates hope to elicit specific plans from the European Union, Australia, and other countries bound by the Kyoto Protocol to slash carbon output. Developing nations demand that the West put forth detailed numbers on emissions-reduction goals as well as financial assistance for developing nations to spur clean technology deployment and adapt to unavoidable impacts of climate change.

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Members of the G-77 plus China group expressed support for the African position today, and have asked the chair of the Kyoto negotiations to press developed countries for specific slash-and-cash targets. Until those targets are announced publicly, “we should refrain from engaging in such a wasteful exercise,” said Sudanese delegate Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, who heads the G-77 plus China block. 

The African and G-77 plus China delegates assert that an ambitious, science-based deal must be forged in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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“A weaker deal will lead to our death,” Di-Aping said plainly, alluding to the predicted fate of low-lying island nations and developing countries that are most sensitive to climate disruption.

Insufficient funding for developing countries would greatly reduce the ability of poor nations to recover from climate shocks in the near term, and weaken their resilience to ward off future disasters as climate change accelerates.

Meanwhile, negotiators from many developed countries continued Tuesday to try to steer expectations away from the prospect of reaching a legally binding agreement in Denmark this December. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told Reuters yesterday that a “politically binding agreement” could emerge from Copenhagen, but the final legally binding decisions are outside the realm of possibility for this year. 

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated today that, “realistically speaking, we may not be able to have all the words on detailed matters,” confirming that much work will be left unfinished at the conclusion of the Copenhagen summit.

In other words, while representatives from the developing world are calling for a strong, science-based treaty to combat climate change and save the poorest and most vulnerable nations from climate catastrophe, wealthy industrialized nations want to substitute lofty politic rhetoric for a commitment to action in Copenhagen.   

“Copenhagen isn’t about creating photo opportunities for politicians,” Tove Ryding of Greenpeace International told reporters Tuesday. “It is about getting an agreement that prevents climate chaos.”

Africa and the rest of the developing world could not agree more. 

The U.S. was largely below the radar screen in Barcelona today, but all that is likely to change tomorrow when delegates hear the news of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech pressing Congress to act on climate, and learn the result of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s attempt to mark up the Kerry-Boxer bill despite a GOP boycott.

Stay tuned for more on the fireworks (er, mostly duds) from Barcelona.