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U.S. Looks to Revive Climate Talks With $100B Yearly Pledge

December 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The U.S. took an aggressive stance on climate change Thursday at the Copenhagen summit, promising to help raise $100 billion a year for developing nations struggling with the negative effects of global warming. Ray Suarez reports from the talks.

RAY SUAREZ: When Secretary of State Clinton arrived in Copenhagen today, she said the U.S. wanted to reach a climate deal before the week was out, but she insisted it must include verification of emissions cuts in developing nations like China.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: There are many ways to achieve transparency that would be credible and acceptable, but there has to be a willingness to move toward transparency in whatever form we finally determine is appropriate. So, if there is not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that’s kind of a deal-breaker for us.

RAY SUAREZ: That’s a demand the Chinese have resisted and reportedly rejected again today. But, this afternoon, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei fired back. He said, China is not afraid of monitoring and verification, but is standing on principle for itself and other developing countries.

HE YAFEI: To increase mutual trust, extremely important. We should not go for suspicion. We should not go for confrontation. We should go for cooperation.

RAY SUAREZ: Clinton also upped the ante by announcing, the U.S. was willing to participate in a global fund to pay for the transition to a warmer planet, and promised an undefined American contribution if a deal could be reached.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: The United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries.

RAY SUAREZ: The secretary said, $100 billion is a lot of money and should be a big help to less developed countries trying to cushion the blows of climate change.

And while the United States is joining with other industrial countries to commit to emissions that will cap warming at about 3.5 degrees, two degrees Celsius, that limit is too high for Latin American, Asian, and African representatives. They want the rise limited to about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

WILLIAM KOJO AGYEMANG-BONSU, climate change envoy, Ghana: So, if you’re talking about a two degrees rise globally, a mean of that, then certain points of the continent or the — Africa, you have area that will go beyond that mean. And it’s more likely to be between the rate of three and five degrees, which is intolerable for various, or I would say disastrous, for the entire economy of the continent.

RAY SUAREZ: And the chief negotiator for the African group said his countries are solidly against the developed countries’ warming target.

So, the delay has increased the chances that other African nations will start to peel off and make their own deals, start to, for instance, accept…

KAMEL DJEMOUAI, chairman, Africa Group: I can assure you that — I can assure you that no one will have any chance to divide African countries. We are going to stay united and unified as African countries, and we are going to move as one Africa in this process.

RAY SUAREZ: Any deal coming out of Copenhagen would have to win the approval of the U.S. Congress to bring American participation in a worldwide plan.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass., foreign relations committee chairman: This is a time for all of us to act boldly.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts told the conference yesterday that approval is winnable, with strong compliance measures.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: Without an agreement here in Copenhagen that addresses this core issue of transparency, it will be exceedingly difficult to persuade already doubtful elected officials that they are safe in asking their citizens to go along.

Senators and congressman alike are determined that there must be consequences for a country that thinks they can duck altogether or fake a participation in a solution.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE, R-Okla.: There’s not a chance in the world that it will pass.

RAY SUAREZ: Today, Senator James Inhofe, who calls manmade global climate change a hoax, said, a Copenhagen treaty would never pass on Capitol Hill.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: I don’t know what the president is going to say, so I’m saying — I’m making my position that I think is consistent with the position of America. And that is that we are not going to be passing any climate change bill.

RAY SUAREZ: As arguments raged over emission limits, costs, and economic growth, the World Health Organization raised one of the less-talked-about aspects of climate change: that a warmer planet will be a sicker one, too.

DIARMID CAMPBELL-LENDRUM, World Health Organization: We already deal with massive impacts on human health of climate-sensitive diseases — 2.2 million people die every year from diarrheal disease. It’s highly sensitive to climate — 1.1 million die from disease. That’s highly sensitive to climate — 3.5 million die from under-nutrition.

That’s entirely dependent on agricultural production. And all of those deaths occur in the parts of the world that are going to be most affected by climate change.

RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum says, recent history has shown him there will health effects for people in the richest countries, too.

DIARMID CAMPBELL-LENDRUM: I started working in WHO in 2003, early summer. By the end of the summer, we had had a record-breaking heat wave across Western Europe. Seventy thousand more people died during that summer than we would have expected to have — to die in an ordinary summer. That changed everything, I would say, within the discussion within the — within Western Europe, because we realized that we were no longer immune to the effects of weather and climate.

RAY SUAREZ: As the conference enters its last day, it’s hard to know whether the predictions of failure are meant to pressure President Obama and other world leaders, or whether it’s an accurate reading of the current state of the talks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I spoke with Ray just a short time ago.

Ray, hello there.

Let me ask you, first of all, there’s all this focus today on whether the money the U.S. is putting on the table for developing nations is going to break the logjam. But I gather your reporting is that it’s more complicated than that.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, yes, the Clinton announcement that they were going to help the world raise $100 billion per year by the end of next decade, so that $100 billion would be going out to developing nations by 2020, was certainly a welcome announcement and met with some excitement.

But it’s considered insufficient by many of the countries that are still not industrialized, many of the countries that are facing some of the most dire effects from global warming. They are afraid that it simply won’t be enough if there aren’t really big commitments from the industrialized world for steep reductions in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

So, while the Clinton announcement was welcome, and the commitment toward not only putting money into the pot, but helping raise money around the world, was also something that got a lot of attention, the fact that the amount on the check, as it were, is still left blank by the United States, there was no commitment from the secretary of state on how much she would give, that got some attention as well, and the fact that the money — the money figures that are being talked about by the industrialized world are considered too small by many of the developing nations that think they will need the money most.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray, so much of the focus now on these disagreements between the United States and China. What — what is the nub of the disagreement there? What are the main differences between the two countries?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, these negotiations are filled with technical terms.

But one that’s very important and you should pay attention to for the rest of this story is MRV. It means measurable, reportable and verifiable. MRV means that an architecture is put in place where an international body or another member state can actually check whether a country that makes certain obligations under the — whatever treaty is to come out of this process can actually be given some oversight, seeing whether they’re meeting their targets.

China bridles at this notion. And if you know a little Chinese history, you know that the country was sliced up by the Western powers for a long time, and really had no control over its own economy and its own trade. So, there’s historical memory involved here, and there’s also the self-confidence, the burgeoning economy, the swagger that comes with being China in 2009.

They feel that they have already made bigger concessions and bigger guarantees to the rest of the world about how the next couple of decades are going to go as far as global emissions, and they don’t need that regime in place. And they’re not budging. They have given no sign of budging. And neither has the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray, you were telling me earlier that you really can’t look at this — the relationship between the U.S. and China without putting in the larger context of the developed world and the developing world. Explain what you meant.

RAY SUAREZ: Whenever someone brings up history in a speech around here, it’s not just a throwaway line.

What history means to global climate talks is very significant, and shows, really, two very different ways of looking at the world. The less developed countries and the industrializing countries point to the richest places in the world, and say, yes, they have been emitting freely for over a century, since their big industrial growth in the late 19th century. It’s what made them rich, and whatever global climate change is happening now is largely their responsibility.

So, history has to be taken into account. The Western world is saying, look, that may be true. We accept that version of history, but we also know that the new big emitters on the scene are not the wealthy West, the members of the E.U., the North American nations, but they’re places like Brazil, India, and China.

And any regime that takes the next couple of decades into account can’t just look at history, but has to understand the coming new industrial powers and their role in continuing to warm the climate of the planet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, finally, Ray, tomorrow’s the big day, the day when the heads of state arrive, President Obama arrives. How much real pressure is that putting on these folks to reach an agreement?

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been a tremendous change in tone during the week.

Monday and Tuesday, people in responsibility, people who helped arrange this conference in the first place, were saying, we can’t let those heads of states down. They aren’t coming here for nothing. This will put pressure in the pipe. It will help bring an agreement about as the week progresses.

But, in the middle of the week, something definitely changed in the way people spoke about the impending arrival of those world leaders, that there was going to be disappointment, a letdown, that their mere presence wouldn’t be enough to help breach those still very wide gaps between the developing world and the most developed industrial countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray Suarez, and we will be talking to you, hearing what you have to say tomorrow.

Thanks, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: Good to talk to you, Judy.