At Copenhagen, both rich and developing nations offer concessions

Rriot police push back protesters during a rally outside the venue of the climate talks in Copenhagen.
Rriot police push back protesters during a rally outside the venue of the climate talks in Copenhagen. (Thibault Camus/associated Press)
By Juliet Eilperin and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009

COPENHAGEN -- As President Obama prepared to visit the historic climate conference here, there were signs Wednesday of a break in the impasse between rich and developing nations.

The United States and Japan agreed to make major contributions to the developing world to keep prospects of a deal alive. And the leader of a bloc of African nations said they would accept a smaller -- though still sizable -- package of financial aid, in return for going along with an agreement.

But tear gas hung in the air outside the conference center, as protesters demanding faster and more stringent cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions clashed with police. And, inside, talks were slowed by disagreements within the developing world -- which has proved a more powerful, and more fractious, force than expected.

Some environmentalists expressed hope that Obama's appearance Friday, the final day of the 12-day talks, could help end the two chaotic weeks on a successful note.

"If the pieces are here, President Obama is the only person who can pull them together into an agreement," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. "We expect him to do so."

Even before the United Nations-led talks began, it was clear they would not deliver what environmental groups had initially hoped for: a global treaty on climate change, with high-emitting countries formally pledging to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions in the coming decades.

Instead, the goal was to sign a "political agreement," in which nations would pledge to tackle emissions but without making a binding commitment under international law. The understanding was that a formal treaty would come in 2010.

That goal still seemed within reach Wednesday, one day before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives to take part in the negotiations.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that it is typical of global conferences that some differences remain when heads of state arrive. Obama, who has made phone calls this week to the leaders of developed nations such as Germany and France and developing countries such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia, will be joining 118 other world leaders in the Danish capital.

"I think you've seen in some ways people say that . . . some of this is just going to get hashed out when leaders of these countries get here to start hashing it out," Gibbs said. "I think that's in many ways how some of this stuff happens. And I don't think that, in all honesty, that'll be a lot different here."

Compromise on money

In a moment that distilled the diplomatic dance in Copenhagen, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi -- who is representing all of Africa here -- unveiled his proposal Wednesday for a system in which rich countries would provide money to poor ones to help deal with the effects of climate change. The effects might include rising sea levels, droughts and changing rainfall patterns.

Zenawi said he would accept $30 billion a year in the short term, rising to $100 billion a year by 2020, for poor countries worldwide. This was seen as a key concession by developing countries, which had previously spurned that figure -- originally proposed by European countries -- as too low.

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