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Climate treaty realities push leaders to trim priority lists

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; A04

As prospects for a binding global climate treaty this year have evaporated, leaders and environmental advocates have focused their efforts on reaching agreement on a few top priorities, including preserving tropical forests and helping developing countries cope with climate change.

The U.N.-sponsored climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, in December are increasingly viewed as an interim step to a final deal. Many heads of state and activists had hoped that they could produce a successor agreement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The climate pact's first period ends in 2012.

Instead, negotiators have begun to focus on what U.N. Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth calls "the building blocks" of a global climate strategy.

In an interview Monday, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that it was overly ambitious to include everything from emissions targets to technology transfer provisions and funding for preventing deforestation. "We cannot expect all of this in an agreement covering all issues. But what I hope is we are able to make some progress on some issues."

U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd Stern said the administration was focused on bringing essential elements for an eventual treaty "to some level of closure" by the end of the year. "There's a bunch of work to be done," he said.

Connie Hedegaard, who led the climate talks in Copenhagen last year and serves as European commissioner for climate action, said that focusing on those priorities could help win over the leaders of some developing countries. "Why don't we focus on content: specific actions, specific deliverables," Hedegaard said. "Then they could see there's something in it for them."

The divide between rich and poor countries was evident over the weekend in Bonn, Germany, where delegates from 175 nations met for a working session to lay the groundwork for this year's talks. The procedural debate, on questions such as whether to include the U.S.-brokered Copenhagen Accord in the ongoing U.N. talks, became so contentious it prompted committee chairwoman Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe to comment Sunday, "If we can't agree on this, then we may have problems when we really start negotiating."

Bolivia is leading an attempt to draft an alternate agenda for U.N. negotiators. On Monday, Bolivian delegate Pablo Solon said he was glad that the concluding statement coming out of Bonn did not mention December's agreement to link climate funding for developing nations to greater transparency and accountability about their own emissions reductions.

In an effort to ease these tensions, industrialized nations are focusing on raising funds to decrease deforestation in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Norway has already pledged to pay as much as $1 billion to preserve Brazil's forests; the United States has also promised $1 billion for international forestry efforts.

"By doing something with forests, we can bridge the gap between the developed and developing world," said Stoltenberg, who will host a meeting on the issue in Norway next month.

Although the idea of allowing the private sector to offset its carbon emissions by paying to preserve forests is popular among politicians and much of the business community, it is unclear whether the streamlined climate bill that Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) plan to release next week will include the same provisions as the House-passed climate bill.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen said she was optimistic that world leaders could reach agreement by the time negotiators meet in South Africa at the end of 2011.

"We are all facing the same facts," Halonen said in an interview Monday. "That was not true with some governments a few years ago."

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