President Barack Obama sent his biggest gun, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to Copenhagen to try to end the battle between rich and poor countries that threatens to wreck the climate summit and expose the planet to ruinous temperature increases. As of Thursday night, no one knew whether it would work.
Ms. Clinton, in essence, offered a bribe. The United States would support (though only partly pay for) a $100-billion (U.S.) fund to fight climate change in the developing world if developing countries - she singled out China - were to allow the independent verification of their emissions.
Vice-foreign minister He Yafei said China is ready for "dialogue and co-operation that is not intrusive, that would not infringe on China's sovereignty," The Associated Press reported. And the White House said Mr. Obama will hold talks Friday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
Funding for the developing world was one of the key issues still dividing climate-change negotiators and environment ministers Thursday night, only hours before the heads of state and government of 119 countries were due to sign a sweeping emissions agreement to limit the planet's average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees. A leaked United Nations document suggested that dangerously higher temperatures were likely, based on the reductions pledged so far.
A range of other issues remained unresolved. They included precise emissions-reduction pledges by 2020; the launch of a three-year, $30-billion (U.S.) Fast Start fund that would precede the larger fund; and whether the Kyoto Protocol, the existing, and only, legally binding international climate treaty, would disappear in a cloud of carbon dioxide, be extended beyond its 2012 expiry date or be replaced by an agreement that covers all countries, not just the industrialized world.
As the negotiations dragged on, delegates and former climate-change negotiators said they expected, at best, a thin political endorsement to be signed Friday by the 193 countries at the summit, leaving the details to be worked out days or months later.
The issue that bogged down the summit in recent days was transparency. The United States, Canada and other developed countries insist that emission reductions everywhere be monitored, reported and verified (known as MRV) to ensure there is no gap between what a country promises and what it delivers.
"It would be hard to imagine, speaking for the United States, that there could be the level of financial commitment that I have just announced in the absence of transparency from the second-biggest emitter," Ms. Clinton said, referring to China. "If there is not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that's kind of a deal-breaker for us."
She said the financing pledge was also conditional on a deal being reached by the world leaders.
China's concern is that the verification of emissions by outside agencies is an intolerable intrusion on its sovereignty. A few other big developing countries, India and Brazil among them, have similar concerns about transparency. But China's fears are the greatest. "They are worried about the carbon police descending on their country," said Kevin Fay, executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership of Arlington, Va. "To them, it's a question of whether China maintains control of their economy."
Shortly after Ms. Clinton's speech, China said it is willing to provide details about its emissions but suggested it would go only so far.
Mr. Fay and other climate-change experts, including Dirk Forrister, the former chairman of the White House climate-change task force under president Bill Clinton, sees Ms. Clinton's funding announcement as a divide-and-conquer strategy. The developing world, such as the poor African states, desperately want long-term funding to pay for climate-change adaptation and mitigation. The two men suspected the developing countries were putting enormous pressure on China last night to strike a deal with the Americans.
Delegates, observers and former climate-change negotiators at the summit said Ms. Clinton's announcement would not guarantee success, but certainly increased the odds. Last night at a press conference, Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan, the negotiator for the G77 poor and developing countries (actually 135 countries), said the United States' move "was certainly a welcome signal" though the funding proposal was insufficient.
One of the big funding issues still outstanding last night was the method of delivering the funds. The developing countries want considerable control over where, and how, the money will be spent. The United States wants the ability to send the money to the countries and projects it sees fit. "The U.S. wants the flexibility to allocate the money to the most efficient use," said Dennis Tirpak, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute in Washington.
A leaked document making the rounds Thursday night at the summit said the planet is on course for a dangerously high, 3-degree average rise, based on the emissions cuts offered so far by the countries attending the summit.
The document, dated Dec. 15 and marked "Confidential Very Initial Draft," was prepared by the UN secretariat overseeing the Copenhagen summit. It reveals a gap of 1.9-gigatonnes to 4.2-million gigatonnes (one gigatonne equals one billion tonnes) between the latest reduction pledges by 2020 and the output level - 44 gigatonnes - required to stay below a rise of 2 degrees over the next century. The pledge shortfall "will reduce significantly the probability to stay within a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius," the draft document concluded.
It was not known Thursday night whether additional reduction pledges, if any, had been made to increase the odds of smaller temperature rises.
What is known is that about 100 poor countries, including the island states that risk being wiped off the map by rising sea levels, have been pushing hard for an emissions level that would limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. The 2006 Stern report, prepared for the British government, said a 3-degree rise would push 50 per cent of species toward extinction and put hundreds of millions of people at risk of hunger and coastal flooding.