Rising tide of dueling proposals swamping U.N. summit

COPENHAGEN -- Crunch time draws near at the global warming summit.

Hundreds of ministers descend on the Danish capital this weekend, the midway point of the two-week negotiations. Just a few days later, more than 110 world leaders, including President Obama will join them.

Amid the photo-ops and handshakes -- not to mention a dinner with the Danish queen -- the leaders will expect progress in the world's quest for a new global warming agreement. Negotiators scrambled today to deliver.

The cavernous Bella Center, home of the U.N. climate talks, is awash in paper. The chairmen of two key U.N. panels released drafts that could form the basis of a new agreement, condensing 180 pages of dueling proposals into eight. Almost immediately, small island nations countered with their own outline. The Danes are expected to put forward their text tomorrow. China, India, Brazil and South Africa are busy drawing up a new list of must-haves that they call "nonnegotiable."

Some of the old hands at U.N. climate talks say this kind of document flurry is not normally seen until the final hours.


"They've got to have stuff that ministers can look at, and it has to be stuff ministers will understand," said David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resource Defense Council's climate center and former head of the U.S. EPA climate center.

Added Jake Schmidt, NRDC's international climate policy director, "The clock is moved up on this. The time to cut the deals is much earlier in the negotiating session."

The U.N. conference is aimed at creating the outlines of a new treaty that can succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Those close to the negotiating teams say the pressure on almost every country is enormous. Not only are ambassadors expected to produce an agreement their president or prime minister can sign and declare good for the planet -- but they also need to craft something their leaders can take back home and sell domestically as also good for the home front. That has meant digging in heels on core issues like emission targets and money as individual countries and larger nation blocs fear appearing to be giving in too much.

Some of the fiercest jousting will happen in smaller sessions tonight. Then tomorrow brings an informal ministerial meeting and likely a rush for more documents.

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish president of the U.N. summit, praised the release of the papers that came out today as "good news," adding, "We are now starting to get specific." But for all the activity, it is not entirely clear that things are becoming more specific.

U.N. draft pleases no one

The official U.N. document drafted by Malta's Michael Cutajar carefully avoids calling itself a negotiating text. It says developed countries must cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 to 45 percent below 1990 levels in the coming decade, with the goal of keeping global temperatures from rising between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels.

That is a target that pushes developed countries further than most have been willing to go. It also makes no mention of when emerging countries with fast-rising emissions like China and India will need to peak their greenhouse gas output and begin cutting.

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern dismissed the possibility of any new agreement that does not also require China, India and other fast-developing countries to make deep cuts.

"You can't even have that discussion if the major developing countries aren't taking a real role," Stern said. "This structure is kind of a structure that reflects old think, and we can't get the problem solved that way. We don't want to start a negotiation on that basis. This is very much driven by the environmental imperative."

Developing countries also criticized the plan. Poor countries expect billions of dollars -- some have argued as much as $200 billion annually -- from the industrialized world to protect themselves from impending natural disasters and to help move away from fossil fuels themselves. It is one of the hot-button issues for vulnerable nations, but the text only leaves a blank spot to be filled in with details later.

Ambassador Dessima Williams of Grenada, leading the Alliance of Small Island States, said the world's most vulnerable countries insist that an agreement must include "predictable, adequate and accessible funding." She criticized the United States and other nations for the only money offer currently on the table -- $10 billion over the next three years for immediate needs.

"We didn't come here for $10 billion," Williams said. In releasing their own proposed negotiating text, the island nations also are demanding the United Nations develop a legally binding agreement. The Danish hosts have raised the prospect of a political agreement out of Copenhagen that likely would not hold countries to enforceable standards for cutting greenhouse gases and finance.

Williams declined to say if countries would walk away from a deal they deemed insufficient, but said, "We don't want anything less than a real agreement. We will not do anything to set back or compromise."

Funding proposals

The European Union today also signed off on a plan to contribute some $3 billion starting next year to help developing nations adapt to the effects of climate change. In Washington, the House earlier this week passed a $447 billion omnibus appropriations bill that includes Obama's $1.25 billion contribution to the fund. Senate action is possible next week on the legislation.

But not everyone is satisfied with the funding plans coming from Brussels and Washington.

"Our view is that European leaders are acting as if they were climate skeptics," Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who speaks for the Group of 77 developing countries. "Fundamentally, they are saying this problem does not exist, and therefore, they're providing no finance whatsoever."

Di-Aping also urged Obama to spend more. "I hope the president will act in the same spirit and the same tradition of Roosevelt, that this is a serious threat to humanity and that millions and billions and trillions of dollars are sitting there or being channeled for wars that have no basis," he said.

Fights over what exactly will be in the text Copenhagen produces also could come to a head today if the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is allowed to lead a plenary discussion on the topic. Tuvalu turned up the heat on the climate talks earlier this week when it demanded a new group be created to consider its demand to create a new protocol under the U.N. convention.

China and India opposed the move, and talks were suspended amid the disagreement. Alden Meyer, international climate policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that in exchange for dropping the proposal, Tuvalu could get some key floor time on legal proposals. That, in turn, might lead to a full-blown debate and force the backroom discussions into the open.

Not to be outdone, a group of countries that call themselves BASIC -- Brazil, South Africa, India and China -- are drawing their own lines in the sand along with African countries.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh hinted at some of them tonight: no peak years for developing countries and no global emissions goal without clearly defining different responsibilities between developed and developing nations.

Naming a year at which emissions must peak, Ramesh said, is "unacceptable," as is a goal of limiting emissions to 2 degrees without protecting India and other developing countries from unfair burdens. Experts close to the Chinese delegation, meanwhile, said their negotiators are beginning to get angry at pressure from the United States and Europe to beef up China's targets.

'When it rains, it pours'

Even environmental groups accustomed to poring over reams of documents called today's outpouring overwhelming.

"When it rains, it pours," said Keya Chatterjee, director of international climate negotiations for the World Wildlife Fund. "We've been complaining for months that we don't have a good text that's a basis for negotiations. Now we have a lot of them."

Negotiators, meanwhile, denied they were facing pressure but acknowledged that with world leaders arriving Thursday and Friday, time is running out.

"We'll have a new dynamics in our work," said Brazil's chief negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado. "And it's good that this happens, because this may solve politically issues that are the technical level still very difficult to solve."

"I would not characterize this as pressure," Machado added. "It is something that is very useful. It's the need to finish the work as quickly as possible, because next week our leaders are coming to Copenhagen, and they want to see an outcome that they can approve."

Added Korea's ambassador for climate change, Rae Kwon Chung, "It's not pressure we're facing. It's a deadlock. This deadlock is not the kind of thing that can be resolved in a few days. We've been having these issues for many years."

In an interview, he said the mood among negotiators on the final day of the first week of talks was "very low," adding, "So far, we didn't make any progress. We completely used the time in vain, and we lost this week, unfortunately."

Senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn contributed.

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