Ethiopian breaks deadlock in CopenhagenDecember 18th, 2009
Barack Obama and the best-known leaders in the world will gather in Copenhagen on Friday but it is a slight, gently-spoken Meles who has injected at least a faint ray of hope into the climate change summit by opening the way for a breakthrough on climate funding.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi surprised delegates from most countries in Copenhagen by offering a $300 billion-a-year compromise on the issue of climate finance.
Acting on his own initiative, Meles delighted organizers of the summit by putting back into motion one of the key deadlocked issues.
Some African politicians were quick to accuse him. Just two weeks ago the G77 group of 130 developing nations, which is heavy with African states, was warning that there could be no climate change deal unless industrialised nations handed over at least 1 percent of their annual economic output, or $400bn a year, to help poorer countries cope with climate change.
China vowed last week to help Meles adopt that hardline approach, making the financing issue the latest battlefield in the growing contest between China and the West for influence in Africa.
The G77 is chaired by China's staunch ally Sudan and last Monday's walk-out from negotiations by African officials was led by another hardliner, Algeria, which was chairing the African Union for the bureaucrat-level talks.
But Meles was appointed some months ago as the African Union's spokesman for leader-level climate talks, and he decided in recent days that the union's huge demands could never succeed.
Instead he offered to accept the sort of numbers that European leaders have already said they could live with, as long as the money came from reliable sources and was backed by a guarantee that the Africans would have a strong say in the administration of any money they receive.
Meles had laid the groundwork for his proposal so skilfully and quietly that he had left his opponents with little time and few options to thwart him.
By the time he rose in the main conference hall in Copenhagen to unveil his proposal he had discussed it in a 48-hour blitz of talks with western leaders including Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd, and explained it at the last moment to his fellow African leaders.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday signed up to the $100bn figure, putting it on the way to becoming a new consensus figure.
The Ethiopian insisted that Africa would have to have an equal say with donors in overseeing such funds but European leaders were so grateful to see any sign at all of compromise at Copenhagen that they quickly accepted his conditions, making it likely that the funding issue can be settled if other sticking points can also be budged.
Meles demanded that a panel of experts should be given just six months to examine more reliable and "innovative" funding methods such as new fuel taxes on shipping and aviation, the sale of carbon credits, a new "Tobin tax" on financial transactions, or the use of IMF assets.
"I know my proposal today will disappoint those Africans who... have asked for full compensation ... for damage done to our development prospects," he told the summit.
"My proposal dramatically scales back our expectation of the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such a fund."
"We are not here to preach or grandstand. We are here to negotiate, to give and take, and seal a fair deal however messy such a deal might be."
Conceding that a failure to reach a deal would hurt vulnerable poor countries more than wealthy nations, he said that "because we stand to lose more than others we have to be flexible."
"Such flexibility should not be confused with desperation," he added, warning that if his conditions were not met he would use Africa's clout to ensure that no deal of any kind could be signed a deal at Copenhagen.