At climate talks, key decisions unresolved

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
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

COPENHAGEN -- As world leaders begin gathering here to hammer out a climate deal in two days, some key decisions still haven't been made.

It's unclear how to fund a deal that could involve the transfer of billions of dollars from industrialized countries to the developing world; delegates remain at loggerheads over which mechanisms should be employed to reduce emissions; and there is continuing debate about how to monitor compliance with a treaty.

The uncertainty over the talks' direction raises questions about the next step: what sort of binding treaty policymakers will be able to produce next year, the new deadline they have set.

A new version of the overall negotiating text came out early Wednesday with little changed from last week's draft.

The lack of visible progress has frustrated activists, who have staged attention-grabbing stunts to convey their dissatisfaction. Some, dressed as police officers, handed out cards titled "Climate Crime Scene: Can You Help?" with lines such as: "Climate change could push sub-Saharan Africans into poverty by 2020 if global leaders do not act now to reach a fair climate deal." Others unfurled bright yellow banners declaring "Do Not Nuke the Climate."

Former vice president Al Gore urged a crowd of hundreds inside the Bella Center on Tuesday to continue pressing for a meaningful agreement. "My plea to you is: Realize what is at stake and reach a result that gives momentum to the process," he said in a nearly hour-long speech.

The question of funding -- which stalled the talks earlier this week when a group of poor nations protested that they stood to lose even the protections they had won with the Kyoto Protocol 12 years ago -- remains intractable. Delegates from poorer countries and from major emerging economies such as China have charged that wealthy nations have not put enough money on the table to persuade developing nations to sign on to any deal that would force them to curb their greenhouse gas emissions; industrialized nations counter that they cannot embrace any agreement that does not bind major emerging economies to emissions-monitoring procedures that can be verified from outside the country.

Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said this dynamic may mean that "Copenhagen may deliver both more and less than we anticipated."

"More, in terms of explicit pledges from all of the major powers that I couldn't have predicted just a few weeks ago," he said, referring to emissions cuts. "Less, in terms of building the framework to turn these pledges into legal commitments."

'Clogging the process'

The question of long-term financing is critical, because many developing countries see little incentive to sign off on an agreement that does not provide them with significant new money to deal with the effects of global warming.

"That issue is clogging the process right now," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute. "The U.S. is asking for a lot but hasn't been able to bring very much."

President Obama and his representatives held a series of talks with key nations over the past two days aimed at determining exactly how much money vulnerable nations would need to endorse a deal.

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