Africa's climate plan backed

Ethiopia, one of Africa's poorest countries, last night put forward a radical multibillion-dollar plan to break the continuing deadlock at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen - and it was immediately taken up by the British and French leaders.

The proposal, from Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's long-standing ruler who is now one of Africa's elder statesmen, concerned one of the crucial sticking points in the negotiations for a new treaty to fight global warming, which have to end tomorrow - the financial deal which must be a key part of any new climate agreement.

Rich countries have agreed in principle to a Climate Fund to help poor countries cut their carbon emissions and adapt to the damage likely to be caused by climate change but negotiations are stuck on who should contribute and how much.

Mr Zenawi, who arrived in Copenhagen last night to represent the 53 member states of the African Union at the talks, suggested that much of the money could be raised by new taxes on aviation and shipping and an innovative global tax on all financial transactions - known as a "Tobin tax". Research has suggested that such a tax could raise up to US$100 billion ($139 billion) a year.

Mr Zenawi also wants a commitment to long-term finance, to 2020, above and beyond the US$30 billion "fast start" money for the next three years which the conference is likely to approve, and a further commitment to "additionality" - a guarantee that any promised climate cash will not come out of existing aid budgets.

British PM Gordon Brown accepted the plan with alacrity and issued a statement supporting it just before he left for Copenhagen for talks..

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also accepted it at once. The French and Ethiopian leaders officially backed targets to limit the rise in global temperatures and to offer financial aid to help poor countries adapt.

The point about the Europe-Africa alliance may be even more important in the context of the conference than the actual details of the financial plan. The talks in the Danish capital, whose finale will be attended by 130 world leaders, have been strongly characterised by mistrust and animosity between developed and developing countries, with the African nations in particular ready to suspect a double-cross by the rich world.

On Monday, a protest by the African countries about the shape the talks were taking , led to their suspension. However, a deal publicly endorsed on the one side by one of Africa's most important political figures, and on the other by two of Europe's key leaders, has the potential to alter the mood music of the conference and dispel some of the distrust.

* Thousands of protesters were expected to take part in Reclaim Power Day overnight. So far 1500 people have been arrested in Copenhagen, including the high-profile activist Tadzio Mueller, a spokesman for Climate Justice Action.

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