Climate change talks enter 'important moment'

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
Tuesday, December 15, 2009; 8:39 AM

COPENHAGEN -- Global warming talks entered what the top United Nations climate official described as "a very distinct and important moment in the process" Tuesday, as top ministers searched for a way to ensure the commitments nations made here would stand up over time.

Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters both large and small countries will have to make concessions in the coming days because "there is still an enormous amount of ground to be covered if this conference is to deliver what people around the world expect it to deliver."

The United States and other industrialized nations are still pressing for a way to verify that China, India and other emerging economies will make the greenhouse gas emissions cuts they've promised to make in the context of a new agreement, while developing countries argue these rich nations have not provided the financing and ambitious climate targets that would be commensurate with their historic responsibility for global warming.

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish chairman of the conference, said in an interview that monitoring and verifying future emissions cuts "is one of the very difficult issues because the major players both have serious red lines" on the issue. "One is waiting for the other [to move]. We must solve that problem."

On Monday, the largest group of developing nations brought the talks to a halt as they accused the United States and other industrialized countries of forsaking the Kyoto Protocol, the climate agreement that currently imposes emission limits on nearly all of the world's developed nations.

Hedegaard resolved the issue by establishing a series of small working groups where ministers could tackle key issues such as global emissions targets and money to help poor countries cope with climate change.

Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh has already announced his nation would be willing to report on both its emissions reductions and future plans as part of an existing "national communication" that countries submit to the UNFCCC.

The United States had yet to embrace that proposal as a solution, and Ramesh said in an interview Tuesday that he had specifically asked deputy national security adviser Mike Froman what the United States meant when it demanded "transparency" in the arena of greenhouse gas emissions reporting.

"You need to be transparent about what 'transparency' means," Ramesh said. "Are you worried China and India will make up our figures?"

The fact that the major players in the negotiations have not shifted their positions significantly since the talks began last Monday, de Boer said, highlights the fact that the talks' organizers can only push the different parties so far. Organizers hope the more than 110 world leaders arriving over the next three days can bring the talks to a final resolution, he said.

"There's a saying in English, 'You can lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink,' " de Boer said, adding that Denmark had spent two years "bringing 192 horses to water. But you can't, at the end of the day, make the horse drink. Now it is the job of world leaders to make sure we get a result here."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company