Cancun climate-change summit hinges on U.S.-China transparency issues

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010; 11:33 AM

U.S.-China trust issues

China and the United States, the reigning world heavyweight champion carbon emissions polluters, have wrestled over a single complicated issue for about a week at the climate-change meeting in Cancun, Mexico. The outcome, some say, could determine the success or failure of the two-week-long gathering that ends Friday.

What is the argument about?

They've got major trust issues. Nations agreed long ago to prove that they are lowering their carbon emissions through a process called Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV). But the United States is worried that nations could fudge their reports and proposed to take MRV a step further by allowing outside observers into countries to scrub them. China balked, saying it could inadvertently hand over sensitive data to foreigners. Brazil, South Africa and India were also cool to the U.S. proposal.

Are they making progress?

There are hopeful signs. India has embraced transparency in Cancun and circulated a strategy called International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) that would allow outside observation. India is a member of a bloc of developing nations that includes Brazil, South Africa and China, all big polluters. If the others accept the ICA terms, China would be isolated.

Can this issue really make or break the climate talks?

The fight over transparency distracts from other important issues. For example, delegates expected to come up with a way to honor an earlier commitment by rich nations to pay $30 billion a year to poor nations for three years, to transfer green technology to poor countries, to provide financial and other incentives to poor countries to keep them from ripping out forests that soak up carbons, and to help them respond to droughts, floods and other effects of climate change - problems that developed countries largely helped create. Also, the United States has made it clear that unless the transparency issue gets resolved, it won't allow any other part of the climate deal to move forward.

How much time is left?

The summit ends Friday. The last day typically means the beginning of marathon meetings that stretch into Saturday as sleep-deprived ministers address issues that went begging. In Copenhagen, talks went past the Friday deadline and flights out of the city were delayed until Sunday. That didn't mean that every issue got resolved.

- Darryl Fears

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