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17 Dec 2009: Clinton Promises Climate Aid;
Leaked UN Report Sees 3 C of Warming

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton injected new life into the Copenhagen summit Thursday as she told delegates that the U.S. would contribute to a fund designed to raise $100 billion by 2020 to help developing nations adapt to climate change. But Clinton said the U.S. offer was contingent on forging a global climate treaty that requires developing nations to slow the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions and to submit to verification of emissions reporting.

Later in the day, reporters obtained a confidential UN analysis stating that current emissions-cut pledges now being proposed at Copenhagen would lead to a temperature rise this century of 3 degrees C (5.4 F), surpassing the 2 degree C (3.6 F) target that negotiators set as an acceptable limit to global warming. The report by the UN Climate Change Secretariat said the current emissions reductions offered by the U.S., the European Union, China, Japan, Australia, and other nations would mean pouring up to 4 billion tons more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020 than the level needed to hold temperature increases to 2 C. That increased amount of CO2, coupled with significant levels of carbon dioxide emitted in later decades, would mean that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 could rise from the current 387 parts per million to roughly 550 parts per million in a century or so. Those concentrations would likely lead to a 3 C rise, the UN report said.

Climate activists said the UN analysis shows what climate scientists have been maintaining for several years — that nations must be willing to make far more ambitious cuts in CO2 if the world hopes to avoid dangerous warming. “The UN itself knows that it’s going to (be) at least 50 percent hotter than they’re pretending,” said environmental writer Bill McKibben, whose group, 350.org, is campaigning to roll back atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 350 parts per million. While the U.S. is only offering an emissions cut of 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and the European Union is offering a 20 percent cut, climate scientists contend that a far more aggressive cut is needed — 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and even steeper cuts after that.

Clinton’s appearance at the talks Thursday came on a day when the mood among delegates swung wildly between pessimism that a substantive climate agreement could not be forged by Friday — the final day of the conference — and hope that an accord was till within reach. Pessimism was heightened Wednesday evening when Chinese officials expressed skepticism that a treaty would be signed in Copenhagen, suggesting that the best outcome would be a brief political declaration that pushes major issues — including pledges of firm emissions cuts by individual nations — into 2010. On Thursday morning, Su Wei, China’s lead climate negotiator, said China hopes that Copenhagen can lay the groundwork for a possible final deal “by the middle of next year, if possible, or, if not, by the end of the year.”

But Thursday evening, Chinas Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei hinted that China would accept some sort of verification of its CO2 emissions. He Yafei said China was ready to engage in “dialogue and cooperation that is not intrusive, that does not infringe on China’s sovereignty.” Delegates also were buoyed by the prospect that U.S. President Obama was one of 120 world leaders who would be in attendance Friday, and that he would make additional pledges of cash for poor nations to deal with climate change.

As the next-to-last day of the conference ended, the BBC reported that major western leaders at the conference — including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd — were working hard to end the disorganization of recent days and reach a consensus on several key issues. These included the establishment of the fund to help developing nations cope with climate change, the creation of a mechanism enabling industrialized countries to pay poorer nations not to cut down their tropical forests, and the retention of key provisions from the Kyoto Protocol stipulating that industrialized nations make firm emissions reductions commitments. Under the Kyoto agreement, developing countries would not be subject to firm CO2 reduction targets.

Developing nations had been incensed over a draft text showing that industrialized nations wanted to scrap the Kyoto Protocol. “If we keep heading where we’re going, we’re heading for failure, so people want to keep Kyoto — let’s keep Kyoto. But let us agree on the overall political umbrella,” Sarkozy said. Key officials in the negotiations said that the crucial issue of emissions reductions would likely be postponed for further meetings in 2010.

Speaking to reporters at the conference, Clinton dismissed complaints from developing countries that the $100 billion annual fund — designed to help
Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
poorer nations deal with global warming and adopt renewable energy technologies — was insufficient. “$100 billion is a lot,” said Clinton. “It can have tangible effects. We actually think $100 billion is appropriate, usable, and will be effective.” But Clinton went on to warn that the conference — where more than 110 world leaders, including President Obama, will assemble Thursday and Friday — was “running out of time.” She added, “Without the accord, the opportunity to mobilize significant resources to assist developing countries with mitigation and adaptation will be lost . . . It’s no secret that we have lost precious time in these past days. In the time we have left here, it can no longer b about us versus them — this group of nations pitted against that group. We all face the same challenge together”

Clinton said the U.S. would not contribute to the $100 billion fund unless China and other major developing countries agree to slow emissions growth and verify their CO2 output. An agreement would be impossible, she said, “in the absence of transparency” from China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. “If there’s not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that’s kind of a dealbreaker for us.” China has said it will not submit to outside verification.

In a sign that China and the U.S. were making slow progress on key issues of emissions targets and verification, chief U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern said that neither he nor his staff had met for bilateral talks with the Chinese on Wednesday.

In addition to an unspecified contribution to the aid fund from the U.S., Japan announced that it will contribute nearly $20 billion to climate adaptation and renewable energy projects in developing countries. Britain, France, Australia and Norway also have said they will contribute to the fund, which will start with an initial $10 billion in contributions, rising to $50 billion in annual climate aid by 2015 and $100 billion by 2020.

The mood at the talks was somewhat more optimistic Wednesday, after representatives from the European Union and the African Union announced agreement on the $100 annual billion fund and negotiators also said they were close to a deal on the tropical forest payment plan, known as REDD — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. But by Thursday morning the mood of the talks had turned darker, with Sweden’s Environment Minister warning that “we have a very serious situation in Copenhagen” and Britain’s Energy and Climate Secretary, Ed Miliband saying, “It would be a tragedy if we failed to agree because of the substance. It would be a farce of we failed to reach agreement because of the process.”

With world leaders already arriving at the Bella Center, an important meeting of 25 government ministers designed to hash out a final text for the summit, was 18 hours behind schedule.

But after Clinton’s announcement, Yvo de Boer signaled a more optimistic note, highlighting the mood swings that had come to characterize the 12-day climate summit as it neared its end. “Hold tight,” de Boer told reporters. “Mind the doors. The cable car is moving again.”

In an article analyzing the halting progress at the talks, the New York Times said many of the roadblocks were erected by the world’s poorer nations, known as the G-77 bloc. (The bloc actually has 130 members, ranging from relatively affluent countries such as Argentina to poorer African nations, such as Mali.) The developing nations and China have significantly slowed progress at the talks by raising repeated technical objections to various proposals, the Times reports. The newspaper says the group’s animosity toward wealthy nations runs high, with many leaders accusing the U.S. and other developed nations of emitting the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere. “The rich are destroying the planet,” said Hugo Chavez, the socialist president of Venezuela. “Perhaps they think they’re going off to another one after they’re destroyed this one.”

But India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said that with industrialized nations sensing the talks might fail, they were engaging in a “propaganda campaign” to blame the world’s poorer nations. “We are in the end game,” said Ramesh. “It’s only a matter of time before the blame game starts.”

The stakes at the Copenhagen talks were brought into focus by a study released Wednesday that said global sea levels could rise by nine meters (30 feet) in the coming centuries as temperatures rise. The study, published in the journal Nature, reconstructed sea levels in the last interglacial period, 125,000 years ago, when polar temperatures were 5 to 9 degrees F warmer than today. The study, led by Princeton University scientist Robert Kopp, determined seas were roughly 30 feet higher then. Scientists have said that global temperatures could rise by up to 10 degrees F in the next century or two if humanity continues pouring heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate. Such sharp temperature rises would melt large parts of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, leading to extreme increases in sea level that would displace hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

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