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Tuvalu's bold stand – the intercession we had to have?

My videoblog on Tuvalu is here.

Tuvalu is playing a very high stakes game here in Copenhagen. But in doing so, they are reminding all of us that what is being negotiated here is the highest stakes game of all - a question of survival.

Tuvalu, the mouse that roared, has put onto the global stage in the strongest possible terms the basic reality that the 450 ppm target and 2C limit that had become orthodoxy is completely inadequate based on current science. For their own survival, the Tuvaluans are demanding a 350 ppm target, consistent with the recommendations of NASA's James Hansen and other top climate scientists.

Of course, the Tuvaluans and other small island and least developed states who joined them see clearer than the rest of us because they are that much closer to the edge. But the truth behind their position is that the 350 target is critical for all of us on this planet.

The necessary impact of a shift to 350 is to require much deeper cuts from developed nations - 45% below 1990 by 2020 and heading swiftly towards zero carbon - as well as serious commitments from the larger and richer developing nations. Hence the proposal, hailed by some NGOs as the "Tuvalu Protocol", to extend the Kyoto Protocol to include legally binding obligations on those latter countries such as China, India and Venezuela. 11 countries, including those three, were responsible for blocking consensus in the conference session to officially discuss the Tuvalu proposal.

The immediate implication of Tuvalu's intercession has thus been received in the mainstream as a split in the G77, the largest grouping of developing nations. But it has also been received with delight by the huge and ever-growing civil society presence at the conference, with spontaneous chanting of "3-5-0, Tuvalu" erupting across the centre and the city.

Already in the first day of the conference, there was a clear split between developed and developing nations. Developing countries had understandably perceived an increasingly clear pattern of the developed countries trying to suit themselves, create loopholes, and end the Kyoto Protocol to their own advantage.

Now there is a three way split and it will take a huge amount of goodwill to get the conference back on track.

Minister Wong is correct in saying that it will require unprecedented cooperation to reach an agreement in Copenhagen. That means you, Minister. What Tuvalu's intercession has demonstrated is that the goodwill that is required is for developed and large developing countries alike to put some serious commitments on the table. Prime Minister Rudd and Minister Wong must increase Australia's target commitment towards 40% or more, not falling back towards the 5% failure.

After this point, a Copenhagen agreement that still includes numbers such as 450 ppm, 2C and developed world cuts as low as 15 or even 25% - if such an agreement can even be reached - can only be construed as failure.

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