Climate Feedback

Copenhagen: History of mistrust mires talks

Olive Heffernan

The US could walk away from signing a deal on climate change unless China agrees to transparency on emissions reductions, according to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The US has promised to contribute to a fund worth 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change as part of an open and transparent deal. But China is backtracking on its willingness to agree to measures would allow pledged emissions reductions to be reported and independently verified, according to the US delegation.

Briefing the press in Copenhagen this morning, Clinton said failure to agree to such transparency would be a “dealbreaker” for the US. Clinton also said that President Obama is still “planning to come to Copenhagen”, adding “let’s hope there’s something to come for”.

Reports vary as to whether China still even wants a strong political deal to emerge from Copenhagen. According to the Washington Post and Reuters, Chinese officials announced this morning that they are looking for a short agreement – in the form of a two-page political declaration. But the focus of negotiators here is still on reaching agreement on two separate – and substantive – tracks; one is the Kyoto Protocol text, which excludes the US, and the other is the text of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the US is party to. These two separate agreements are unlikely to merge into a single agreement here in Copenhagen.

The news of a potential dealbreaker among the world’s two largest emitters adds to concerns that a deal will not be reached in the coming days. Speaking with a small group of reporters here yesterday, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said there is such a “history of mistrust” that the developing countries still do not believe the rich world will keep its word. This may partly explain China’s reluctance to agree to external verification of its mitigation efforts.

Clearly frustrated by the slow progress in the negotiations, Miliband also said “It would be a tragedy if we failed to agree because of the substance but it would be a farce if we failed to agree because of the process”, refering to the fact that the talks keep getting bogged down in procedural issues.

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