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U.S. Vows Aid To U.N. Climate Disaster Fund

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown meets with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen, on the 11th day of the U.N. Climate Change Conference.
Peter Macdiarmid
AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown meets with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen, on the 11th day of the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

Flagging climate talks in Copenhagen got a bump up Thursday from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who told delegates that the U.S. would contribute to a $100 billion fund to help developing countries adapt to the droughts, floods, crop failures and other disasters expected from climate change.

"A hundred billion can have tangible effects," Clinton said. "We actually think $100 billion is appropriate, usable and will be effective."

Clinton's pledge did not detail what percentage of that aid would come from the United States. European Union nations, Japan and other industrialized countries have already promised to contribute.

With Clinton's pledge, Yvo de Boer, the United Nations' top climate official, said the "cable car" of climate negotiations was moving again. Some representatives of developing countries, the poorest of which would be the recipients of the fund, agreed that the pledge was a good sign — but still not nearly enough to cover the cost of climate change to the world's most vulnerable nations. Moreover, Clinton said conditions will be attached to the aid, such as rules about how it must be spent.

Beyond Clinton's pledge, however, negotiators haven't made much progress over the past week and a half. And with less than two days to go in the official agenda, there is widespread pessimism in Copenhagen that any kind of new, formal agreement to reduce greenhouse gases will result. The Copenhagen meeting was originally designed to draft a plan to replace the Kyoto pact, whose greenhouse emissions caps expire in 2012.

The gist of negotiations has shifted over the course of the meeting from threatened walkouts by African nations and other developing countries over how much financial aid they could expect, to head-to-head debate between the United States and China. U.S. negotiators continue to insist that China should be bound by any new climate treaty, rather than simply promising to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. also wants China's emissions cuts to undergo scrutiny from independent outside auditors. Chinese delegates say that's out of the question.

At the same time, the Group of 77, a loose-knit bargaining bloc of developing countries (actually numbering more than 100 countries), is beginning to lose its cohesion as some countries start to cut separate deals with rich countries for aid.

And despite the impetus created by the funding offer from Secretary Clinton, senior U.S. negotiator Todd Stern expressed frustration with the process so far, especially with China's resistance to accepting binding emissions limits.

"They have lived in a nice house called Kyoto for quite a number of years, and that house doesn't require them to do anything at all," Stern told NPR in Copenhagen. "They are now being asked to move into a different place. But look, there's no way to have a sound environmental treaty unless you do that. China today is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases."

Stern added that laying down negotiating language for an agreement in Copenhagen took way too long, leaving too many big decisions for the last two or three days of the conference. "There has been a lot of time lost," Stern said, "and time that we didn't have in these negotiations, with an aggravating, procedural wrangling rally led by the developing country group."

Twenty members of the House of Representatives, meanwhile, have arrived, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) immediately telling the media that they hope to show the world that Congress is serious about passing a climate bill. She stressed that the bill would create "green jobs," the mantra that bill backers are using to present the legislation in the best light.

President Obama is set to speak at the conference Friday. Delegates say they hope his presence might galvanize the feuding factions to resolve their differences and deliver at least some sort of political pledge to finish a deal next year.

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