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World leaders reach deal on climate change in Copenhagen

President Barack Obama says that the world's will to address climate change "hangs in the balance" and insists any deal must include transparency among nations.
Map locates Copenhagen, Denmark

"The heads of state need to rise above the limitations of the negotiating process," he said. "There are leaders from all over the world who actually understand the issue, not only because of the environment, but also because of their economic future."

Behind the scenes, European leaders have been pressing both the United States and China to raise their near-term climate targets in an effort to secure global emission commitments that would provide at least some chance that future global temperature rise would not exceed the 3.6 degrees threshold.

The European Union has pledged to raise its 2020 emission target, which is now 20 percent below 1990 levels, to 30 percent if other nations also commit to ambitious cuts.

"Europe is completely united," Sarkozy said, according to Reuters. "A large part of Africa agrees with us completely; the United States is very close to our position."

The United States has said it will agree to cut its emissions "in the range of 17 percent" compared to 2005 levels, but the House-passed climate bill includes a few provisions that could boost this target considerably. The World Resources Institute has estimated that these additional elements, including funding to preserve tropical forests, would translate to total emission reductions of between 28 and 33 percent by 2020. But both Clinton and Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy on climate change, said this week they would not include these measures as part of the overall climate target that the United States would aim for in a global pact.

Washington is pressuring developing countries to agree to emissions cuts along with the industrialized world for the first time and insisting on transparent monitoring of those reductions. The United States on Thursday tried to jump-start negotiations with an offer of significant new aid to help poor nations cope with the effects of global warming. High-ranking U.S. officials were assuring nations behind the scenes that after years of resistance, Washington is also serious about reducing emissions at home.

In a private meeting, Clinton told Brazilian officials that a climate change bill that was passed by the House would set aside billions to help preserve tropical rain forests in developing countries. U.S. negotiators also labored to distinguish themselves from George W. Bush's administration, which did not submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate for ratification. In fact, U.S. officials added, the new administration is taking steps with or without Congress to reduce carbon emissions through new fuel standards and other measures. "They are saying, 'Trust us that we can do better,' " said Brazil's climate change ambassador, Sergio Serra, who attended the meeting with Clinton on Thursday.

The new U.S. commitments came after comments by major participants in the talks, most notably China, that chances of even a modest deal were fading. The United States backed what amounts to the single biggest transfer of wealth from rich to poor nations for any one cause -- in a sense offering compensation for decades of warming the Earth.

Clinton pledged that the country would help mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private financing by 2020 -- an amount that is almost equal to the total value of all developmental aid and concessional loans granted to poor nations by the United States, Europe and other donors this year. She did not specify how much the U.S. government would commit to giving, but a senior administration official said it would be 20 to 30 percent. Administration officials said they envisioned most of the money coming from private sources, or from revenue generated by a cap-and-trade scheme, but other sources could include redirecting existing subsidies or a tax on bunker fuel.

'Transparency' is key

Clinton emphasized that any new assistance -- as well as Obama's signature on an agreement here -- would depend on "transparency" and "monitoring" of emissions cuts. Clinton said the historic talks must result in an international accord that includes reduction commitments from developed and major developing countries; financial and technological assistance for poor nations; and a way to independently verify the cuts all countries make. Such language is essential to U.S. senators, who have yet to pass climate legislation and would vote on ratification of any climate treaty.

The ultimatum appeared to sway many of the small island states, which are vulnerable to sea-level rise and have been demanding a legal treaty that would aim to prevent the average global temperature from rising higher than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. In a meeting between Clinton and representatives from 30 island nations, according to a participant, delegates said they would accept a higher temperature threshold of 3.6 degrees but expected the United States to offer more money for adaptation in the short term. Clinton said that would happen.

The current emissions cuts that would be incorporated as part of any future pact have come under fire as too weak to curb dangerous global warming. An internal U.N. analysis that surfaced Thursday afternoon predicted that even under the most ambitious targets countries have pledged, future global temperature rise is likely to exceed 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Clinton specifically warned that China -- which has resisted attempts for international verification of emissions cuts and told officials here before Clinton spoke that a global pact seems unlikely -- must agree to monitoring if a deal is to be reached.

Though a failure of talks here could embarrass the leaders of the 193 countries attending the summit, many heads of state have suggested it would be worse to sign on to a bad agreement.

"Coming back with an empty agreement, I think, would be far worse than coming back empty-handed," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Unlike many international summits, where most of the major details are typically worked out by lower-level diplomats before the leaders arrive, Obama landed here with big issues still in contention. He will continue to meet with other heads of state throughout the day, and the White House said his departure time has not been set because it is not clean when or how the conference will wrap up.

'A big risk'

To a large extent, the administration's gestures Thursday ahead of Obama's arrival amounted to an elaborate trust-building exercise, in which officials assured their overseas counterparts that they will deliver on promises in a way the United States has not done in the past. In private meetings, Clinton bluntly told foreign leaders that her husband had negotiated and signed Kyoto, but could not persuade senators to approve it. That inaction, she said, was followed by eight years in which the Bush administration did little to push for movement on climate change.

Other delegates said that while they appreciate the White House's willingness to embrace a long-term financial package for the developing world, they wonder why the administration waited so long to announce it.

"It could have been a lot better if it was done earlier," said Rae Kwon Chung, South Korea's climate change ambassador.

Senate Republicans were quick to question the move. Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), who was on the ground in Copenhagen for three hours Thursday, said in a statement, "Given the current state of our economy, it is shocking that the Obama administration is pledging to hand over billions of dollars to developing nations for a global warming fund."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) said that no matter how the money is generated, it will "come out of the pockets of American taxpayers."

Wilgoren reported from Washington. Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

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