The Copenhagen Climate Talks May Still Find Common Ground

As the world's leaders converge on Copenhagen for the global climate summit, the clouds over what had been deemed a fairly useless exercise in geopolitical stagecraft appeared to be lifting on Thursday. China, the U.K. and the U.S. all said a climate-change agreement of some sort could be reached. Frameworks for potential deals began to emerge, with developing nations voicing support for compromise proposals. Most dramatic was a proposal that rich nations provide a $100 billion-per-year climate-change fund to help poorer nations mitigate global warming and reduce carbon emissions.

The program, which got a strong vote of confidence from U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, would not hit full steam until 2020, a long way off. Climate scientists are warning that changes in emissions behavior must take place now if the trend toward increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere can be slowed and eventually reversed.

China's climate team, led by Yu Qingtai, refuted earlier reports that it was about to bow out of the talks. The team stated that the Middle Kingdom remains fully committed to getting a deal at Copenhagen.

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed perhaps the most comprehensive compromise proposal. Brown suggested that all industrialized nations cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, a much higher number than had been previously bandied about.

Brown also said industrialized nations must sign up for significant cuts by 2020. Starting in 2010, they must also provide interim financing totaling more than $10 billion per year to poorer countries as climate mitigation aid, as reported by ClimateBiz.

Soft Pedaling from Washington

The White House, which is still struggling to get a health care reform bill passed, has tread lightly on the topic of any commitment to a climate-change deal. President Barack Obama has intentionally soft-pedaled Copenhagen, and his staff has repeatedly said that they don't expect a deal to be reached this year.

That's the right answer for a U.S. Congress that's acrimoniously split over health care reform. Legislators could be further polarized by any bold moves in Copenhagen that would commit the U.S. to carbon reduction or other frameworks to combat global warming.

But the impending arrival of Obama has built anticipation that perhaps something big can be salvaged, above and beyond meaningful but far smaller initiatives, such as the $3.5 billion forest-preservation package announced by the U.S. and five other nations on Dec. 16.

Even if a climate deal is reached, the devil-in-the-details will clearly remain. Carbon-trading markets have been wracked by fraud and scandal, to such a degree that U.N. has been forced to decertify some of the world's largest carbon-offset certification companies and consultants.

Accounting for stimulus spending in the U.S. alone has been difficult. Imagine the possibilities for fraud inherent in a $100 billion aid package going to poor nations with weak civil and legal institutions and massive corruption problems. In other words, it will take a Herculean effort not only to get a climate deal passed, but to administer the effort in a systematic way so that greenhouse gases don't become another form of green graft.
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