15 december 2009

Nations play hardball as Hillary Clinton heads to summit

Darren Samuelsohn and Lisa Friedman, E&E reporters (12/15/2009)

COPENHAGEN -- The United States is putting on a charm offensive as
U.N. climate negotiations enter the home stretch despite new battle
lines between rich and poor countries over core features of a new
emissions agreement.

Yesterday, President Obama worked the phones with leaders of some of
the world's most vulnerable countries, ahead of his scheduled trip to
Denmark on Friday. Also, the State Department confirmed that Secretary
of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would arrive here Thursday for a day
of meetings ahead of Obama's arrival.

Luminaries already are trickling in. By late afternoon, both Britain's
Prince Charles and U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon had arrived for welcoming

In the back rooms of the Bella Center, where negotiators are
frantically trying to come to agreement on major issues before more
than 117 presidents and prime ministers start to arrive tomorrow,
delegates privately said the outlook for success was grim. Publicly,
they insisted upon optimism -- though they warned that the clock is

"We do only have 48 hours," said Connie Hedegaard, the Danish
president of the conference, who fittingly once hosted a television
news program called "Deadline." Before heads of state arrive, she
said, "we must have finished the overall obstacles. That's the

Yet the obstacles appeared to grow, not diminish, today. In a major
show of force, top officials from China, India, Brazil and South
Africa announced that they will collectively reduce global warming
emissions 2.1 gigatons by 2020, but they will do it voluntarily.
Meanwhile, they insisted that industrialized countries ramp up their
targets significantly and sign an agreement that preserves the 1997
Kyoto Protocol, currently the only legally binding climate change

"Developing countries are taking their actions, and we are calling for
developed countries to take their historical responsibilities
squarely," said Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate envoy. "We demand
developed countries cut emissions seriously."

Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, said the four major
emerging countries -- which also are among the world's top greenhouse
gas-emitting nations -- are united.

"We are coordinating our positions almost on an hourly basis," Ramesh
said. "We will resist in a united manner any manipulation or any
attempt to hijack the mandate of Copenhagen."

Both China and India have agreed to cut carbon emissions relative to
economic growth in the coming decade. Brazil has announced major
emission cuts tied largely to avoiding deforestation, and South Africa
has pledged to peak emissions between 2020 and 2025. The group did not
announce new targets today but made a powerful combined statement of
its members' intentions to, as a representative from South Africa
said, "take our responsibilities seriously."

Yet the refusal to be bound to those targets in an international
agreement is a major problem for industrialized countries and the
United States in particular.

Clinton's role

In an op-ed published today in the International Herald Tribune,
Clinton stressed that international verification is key.

"A successful agreement depends upon a number of core elements, but
two are shaping up to be essential: first, that all major economies
set forth strong national actions and resolve to implement them; and
second, that they agree to a system that enables full transparency and
creates confidence that national actions are in fact being
implemented," Clinton wrote.

Clinton also stressed a critical component to the climate accord
sought by key moderate Senate Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
"Transparency, in particular, is what will ensure that this agreement
becomes operational, not just aspirational," she added. "We all need
to take our share of responsibility, stand behind our commitments, and
mean what we say in order for an international agreement to be

Clinton's role is also increasingly growing in the closing hours
before a critical deadline for the high-level environmental ministers
who are trying to get as much accomplished as possible before their
bosses arrive.

Jennifer Morgan, climate director at the World Resources Institute
noted that six months ago that many of the countries offering targets
would have been dead set against doing so. She and others suggested
that a compromise exists on transparency issues, though likely not by
the time Copenhagen talks conclude.

"There's still nothing on the table for them to move one more step,"
Morgan said of the developing countries. "They're putting out a very
clear negotiating position right now."

Obama calls Bangladesh, Ethiopia

Meanwhile, the poorest and most vulnerable countries received
assurances from Obama that the White House wants to see a strong
agreement reached.

The White House said Obama called Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of
Bangladesh and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and "emphasized
his desire to reach a pragmatic solution that encompasses action by
all countries" in Copenhagen.

In the phone calls, Obama recited U.S. efforts to curb emissions and
talked about the different roles both countries are playing in the
two-week-long negotiation session.

Hasina, in return, highlighted how 80 percent of Bangladesh's 150
million people will be especially affected by global warming. And
Meles, whose country has a critical role in the African Union,
underscored the need for the Copenhagen talks to "make suitable
progress" on emission cuts, adaptation and financing to help the
world's poorest countries cope with climate change.

'A lot of positioning'

As of press time, negotiators remained squirreled away in closed-door
talks on a number of critical fronts, from long-term emission
reduction plans to how to finance developing nation efforts. Draft
proposals have been circulating in the Bella Center, too, but they all
remain very tentative and filled with the ubiquitous brackets that
mean multiple proposals are still on the table.

"Time is running away," said Sweden's environment minister, Andreas
Carlgren. "Within 48 hours, or less than 48 hours, actually, we're
going to finalize this agreement."

U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said the U.N. talks have reached a
"very distinct and important moment" that will need to be resolved by
the world leaders.

"There's a saying in English, 'You can lead the horse to water, but
you can't make it drink,'" de Boer said, noting that the Danish
conference's hosts have been working for two years "bringing 192
horses to water. But you can't, at the end of the day, make the horse
drink. Now it is the job of world leaders to make sure we get a result

The U.N. talks have broken down several times already over the last
nine days of the conference, most recently yesterday, when African
nations blocked the entire process because they were not in the room
for critical parts of the negotiations.

But Hedegaard downplayed the delays. "There's a lot of signaling out
there, a lot of positioning, and that's not necessarily reflecting the
spirit when the doors are closed," she said.

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