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16 Dec 2009: Deals on Aid and Forests Reported Close to Completion at Talks

With only two full days remaining at the Copenhagen climate summit, negotiators said they were close to reaching agreement on a pair of key issues — the size of a fund to help developing nations deal with global warming, and the creation of a program under which industrialized nations would pay developing nations not to log tropical forests.

Leaders of the African Union and the European Union announced that they had all but finalized a deal that would provide a short-term climate fund for poorer countries of $10 billion, a sum that would rise steadily until 2020, when developed nations would contribute $100 billion annually to the fund. The fund is to be used by developing nations to adapt to climate change and to adopt renewable energy technologies. African nations temporarily walked out of the talks on Monday to protest what they considered to be paltry sums promised by industrialized nations. But Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt announced that significantly higher contributions to the fund would be forthcoming in the next decade. Negotiators are still working on ways to pay for the fund, ranging from a carbon tax, to a tax on international transactions, to direct contributions from wealthy nations or financing by the International Monetary Fund.

The fund would be controlled by the countries receiving the money, and Zenawi proposed that half of the money go to especially vulnerable regions such as Africa and small island states. The G-77 group of developing countries had asked for as much as $400 billion a year, and Zenawi acknowledged that many African leaders might be disappointed. But he and others portrayed the deal as a compromise that would be acceptable to major Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Also in Copenhagen, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak announced that the Obama administration would provide $1 billion over the next three years to preserve tropical forests. The New York Times reported that negotiators are close to agreement on a deal that would enable industrialized nations to pay developing countries to preserve forests. With other some major issues — such as firm emissions reduction pledges from individual countries — still in doubt, the creation of a forest preservation mechanism could well be one of the major achievements to come out of the Copenhagen summit, the Times reports.

Andrew Deutz, director of International Climate Policy for the Nature Conservancy, said he hoped that Vilsak’s announcement will spur other countries “to address the global challenge of deforestation... These types of announcements are exactly what’s needed to build trust for an ambitious outcome by the end of the week.”

The Times said negotiators had resolved the major remaining issues surrounding a deal on so-called REDD programs — Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Degradation. Those issues included the rights of indigenous people and the definition of a forest, which the draft agreement will expand to include some other major sources of carbon storage, such as peat bogs. Under the REDD mechanism, factories, businesses, and nations would receive carbon credits, or offsets, if they invest in preserving tropical forests in countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and the Congo. Those offsets would enable polluting enterprises or countries to emit carbon dioxide over an allotted ceiling as long as they pay to prevent deforestation.

Deforestation, particularly in the tropics, is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all global carbon emissions. Referring to a REDD deal, Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “It’s likely to be the most concrete thing that comes out of Copenhagen — and it is a very big thing.” Krupp said that a strong REDD mechanism “offers the opportunities for U.S. companies to reduce emissions at lower cost, which is very important politically.”

Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon
The apparent REDD breakthrough came as the talks were making little progress on the key issue of emissions reductions and aid to developing countries. As the conference entered its final three days, with leaders from 110 nations beginning to arrive in Copenhagen, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all nations to commit to larger cuts in green house gases. Saying he was “reasonably optimistic” that some sort of deal could be reached, Moon added, “I have been urging both developed and developing countries that they should all come on board. I think they can and must do more, in terms of mitigation [curbing emissions], in terms of financial support packages.”

Addressing the conference, U.S. Senator John Kerry — a key figure in efforts to pass a Senate climate bill — warned that if the Copenhagen summit fails to reach agreement on key issues, it will be “exceedingly difficult” to get climate legislation through Congress. “With a successful deal here in Copenhagen, next year the United States Congress — House and Senate — will pass comprehensive energy/climate legislation that will reduce America’s emissions,” Kerry predicted. But Kerry warned that Congress was unlikely to pass a bill if the Copenhagen summit failed to produce concrete results or did not ensure that major developing nations, such as China, also committed to significantly slow emission growth.

“Some of my colleagues in Washington remain reluctant to grapple with a climate crisis that is mostly measured in future dangers, when they’re confronted every day with the present pain of hardworking
Bill McKibben reports from the climate talks for e360
people in a tough economic time,” said Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “To pass a bill, we must be able to assure a senator from Ohio that steel workers in his state won’t lose their jobs to India or China because those countries are not participating in a way that is measurable, reportable, and verifiable. Every American — indeed, I think all citizens — need to know that no country will claim an unfair advantage.”

Referring to eight years of inaction on climate negotiations under former President George W. Bush, Kerry said, “The United States is back and President Barack Obama is coming to Copenhagen to put America on the right side of history.”

Meanwhile, China is pushing to make sure that any agreement signed in Copenhagen prohibits the imposition of sanctions on countries that do not commit to binding greenhouse gas reduction targets. “We will always oppose any practice of establishing trade barriers under the guise of the global environment,” said Yu Qingtai, China’s chief climate negotiator.

The Guardian reported that the U.K. was making a behind-the-scenes effort to persuade the U.S. to commit to greater CO2 emissions reductions. The newspaper said British officials had pleaded with the U.S. to “push the boat out” and increase its modest offer of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The European Union has committed to a CO2 reduction of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

With time running out, the feeling was growing in the Bella Center in Copenhagen that the issues of emissions cuts would be left to subsequent meetings next year. As the talks entered their tenth day, representatives from non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups complained that they were being kept out of the Bella Center and ignored in negotiations.

Meanwhile, protests continued on Wednesday, with Danish police arresting 250 people and firing teargas and wielding to beat back demonstrators trying to force their way into the talks.

Speaking to government ministers at the climate summit, Britain’s Prince Charles said adopting a strong REDD mechanism would be key to any successful climate deal. “It seems the quickest and most cost-effective way to buy time in the battle against catastrophic climate change is to find a way to make the trees worth more alive than dead,” the Prince of Wales said. Saying that “our planet has reached a point of crisis,” leaving only seven years before “we lose the levers of control” on the climate, the prince told the ministers. “It is no understatement to say that, with your signatures, you can write our future.”

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