U.N. group drafts greenhouse-gas plan

After a 12-day summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, 193 leaders from around the world reached an agreement on how to combat climate change.
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 12, 2009

COPENHAGEN -- The U.N.-sponsored climate conference -- characterized so far by unruly posturing and mutual recriminations -- gained renewed focus Friday with the release of a document outlining ambitious greenhouse-gas reductions over the next 40 years, with industrialized nations shouldering most of the burden in the near term.

The text, which could provide the basis for a final political deal to regulate greenhouse gases, highlighted the remaining obstacles as much as it illuminated a path forward. But it was seen as an important advance in a negotiation that is running out of time, with more than 100 world leaders arriving in Copenhagen next week.

Forged by a U.N. ad-hoc working group, the text is silent on how much money rich countries would give poor ones to cope with global warming over the short and long term. And it provides a range of options for the key questions, including how developed and major emerging economies would cut their carbon output, and what would be the upper limit of global temperature rise that policymakers would be willing to tolerate.

"It gives a lot of flexibility to the process," said John Coequyt, senior Washington representative for the Sierra Club.

Michael Zammit Cutajar, who drafted the six-page document, boiled down a 180-page negotiation text to focus on what the U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, described as "the big picture."

It shows the outlines for a possible deal, in which industrial nations would collectively cut their emissions by 2020 by 25 to 45 percent compared with 1990 levels, while major developing countries would reduce theirs during the same period by 15 to 30 percent. Together, the countries would cut emissions between 50 and 95 percent by 2050.

The European Union gave the talks a boost as well on Friday by pledging to provide $3.6 billion a year over the next three years to help poorer countries adapt to the impact of climate change -- from coping with flood and drought to avoiding deforestation.

Still, Friday featured the same sort of verbal fireworks that have dominated the talks for the past week.

U.S. special climate envoy Todd Stern rejected language requiring binding cuts of greenhouse-gas emissions for industrialized countries compared with voluntary ones by major emerging economies if they were not funded by the developed world. The move signaled that the Obama administration is taking a harder line with China than Bush administration officials did just two years ago.

"The United States is not going to do a deal without the major developing countries stepping up and taking action," said Stern, who also complained that the text did not do enough to make sure the cuts could be verified by outside observers.

Stern made his comments an hour after Chinese vice foreign minister He Yafei said America's top climate negotiator was either lacking "common sense" or being "extremely irresponsible" for saying earlier in the week that the United States would not help China financially to cope with global warming.

With the future economic trajectory of the world's major powers at stake, fault lines have erupted both within the developing world and between the industrial world and emerging economies.

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