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Five questions about the Copenhagen climate talks

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By David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009

As President Obama heads for the U.N.-run conference, progress on key issues is unsure and prospects for a detailed agreement are bleak.

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What the heck is all this?

This is a United Nations-run conference that was -- originally -- supposed to produce a new global agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, because what happens after 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain. There is a legal agreement in place, but it has no specifics in it, and countries would have to agree to a new round of targets.

But the idea of a new global agreement was scotched before the conference even started. Now countries say they're trying to produce a "political agreement." In U.N.-speak, that means a deal that settles some key issues -- such as climate targets for major greenhouse-gas emitters and the amount of money that rich nations will pay to poor ones to adapt to climate change -- and establishes a framework for inking a formal treaty next year.

Now, even that ambition looks to be in jeopardy, with key issues still unsettled.


What role is the

United States playing?

No longer the villain, but not quite the hero either. The Obama administration has been praised in Copenhagen for pledging to make emissions cuts, which was a break from the Bush administration's approach. And, in the last couple of days, U.S. officials have proposed funding for poor countries, a breakthrough credited with keeping hope of a deal alive. But U.S. negotiators were criticized by some developing countries for taking so long to act, and for demanding that major developing countries subject their emission cuts to international scrutiny. And the U.S. delegation is likely to be cautious in any emissions reductions it promises -- mindful that climate legislation is stalled in the U.S. Senate and that an angry Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol under President Bill Clinton.

President Obama will arrive in Copenhagen on Friday. What he says, and whether he is able to bring bickering blocs of countries together, will likely be the best-remembered story of the U.S. involvement there.


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