COPENHAGEN -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has promised the United States will help raise $100 billion annually by 2020 to assist poor countries in coping with climate change as long as America's demands for a global warming pledge are met.
Clinton's announcement, made during a packed news conference, represents a major breakthrough in the U.N.-led talks, which had all but ground to a halt last night. But Clinton emphasized that the money is only on the table so long as fast-growing nations like China and India accept binding commitments that are open to international inspection and verification. If other countries don't bend, she warned, the poorest countries will suffer.
"In the absence of an operational agreement that meets the requirements that I outlined, there will not be that financial agreement, at least from the United States," Clinton warned. And, she added: "Without that accord, there won't be the kind of joint global action from all of the major economies we all want to see, and the effects in the developing world could be catastrophic."
The pledged amount is less than what the European Union had laid out as necessary to help the poorest countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America prepare for climate disasters and develop low-fossil-fuel economies. Clinton said the funding would come from a mix of public and private financing, including revenue raised from the auctioning of emission allowances under a possible U.S. cap-and-trade system still under development on Capitol Hill.
Clinton did not go into many other details, leaving it unclear precisely what the U.S. share of the $100 billion would be. U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said he is "looking keenly forward" to learning what that contribution will be.
De Boer and others said Clinton's announcement has helped get the lurching and sputtering train of international climate talks back on track.
After a long stall, some movement
"Hold tight and mind the doors. The cable car is moving again," a smiling de Boer said moments after Clinton's announcement.
Added Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, "There's a feeling among negotiators that now we have to go into business, and now we have to be flexible, and now we have to try as hard as we can to make real compromises."
U.S. environmental groups and House Democrats heaped praise on the announcement, while Republican staffers warned of the political difficulties back home in selling such a vast contribution as the economy reels.
"I think it's very essential to the success of how we go forward," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told E&E as she arrived at the Bella Center. "We'll see what the participation will be of other nations, what's certainly appropriate for us to play a leading role in it. So I salute her."
Pelosi is in Copenhagen with 20 other House members, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas).
Oxfam, which has been among the groups on the front lines pressing for adaptation funding, said it was "heartened" by the proposed fund. But the group pressed for money to come from public sources in industrialized countries, and insisted on assurances that the money be in addition to existing financial aid.
"Private financing is no substitute for public investment in the resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable communities," said Oxfam climate change director David Waskow.
Clinton did not specify from what exact sources the money would be broken down, where it would go or how it would get there. She made a point of emphasizing that the money would go to "the poorest and most vulnerable among us." That underscores comments State Department climate envoy Todd Stern has made that China in particular would not be eligible for climate finance. Moreover, the United States has pushed for major developing countries like China to be contributors to any international climate fund.
Pressure on China to respond
Ailun Yang, climate director for Greenpeace in Beijing, noted that China doesn't want or expect money. "I think China's made it clear that the priority of this money indeed should go to the most vulnerable countries, which is a fair point," she said.
In addition to adaptation, Clinton said the fund will have a significant focus on forests. Andrew Deutz of the Nature Conservancy issued a statement saying that in 15 years of following climate talks, he had never seen the United States commit to this level of long-term financing.
"This is the type of high-level political offer that we've been looking for world leaders to bring to Copenhagen to reach a global deal," he said.
International reaction was cautiously optimistic. "I think that we need yet to know what about China?" said Portuguese environmental minister Dulce Pássaro. "With this improvement of the United States, I think we are waiting for China's position."
Yang said she believes there is a compromise to be had between the United States and China on transparency, America's No. 1 issue.
"China doesn't want to give the impression that the negotiations are just about China and the U.S.," she said. "I don't think they want to make it look like a China-U.S. battle here. Obviously, there are a lot of other players here."
Maria de Fatima Monteiro Jardim, environment minister of Angola, noted that African countries suffer dire poverty. Angola in south-central Africa, for example, suffers some of the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates in the world.
"The rich countries could give more, it's my opinion," Jardin said. "More, more, more, more." Looking ahead to 2010, Mexican President Felipe Calderón said he hoped the annual U.N. conference next November in Mexico City was only to deal with implementation issues following success in Copenhagen.
"Let's seize this opportunity," Calderon said about an hour before Clinton's press conference. "Mexico awaits you with open arms."