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Ray Suarez: A Tough Road to Resolution in Copenhagen

FROM COPENHAGEN: What world leaders have been calling “unthinkable” all week — leaving Copenhagen without a comprehensive draft economic for reducing greenhouse gas emissions — is suddenly thinkable.

There are many big agenda items remaining, and the parties are still far apart. It’s too late in the week to simply assume that the accumulated pressure of more than 100 heads of state will clear all the obstacles and make it happen in the next 48 hours.

Even what’s called the “REDD” talks, on reducing destruction and degradation of the world’s forests — called a relative bright spot in a week of bitter debate — is being called less than meets the eye by some activists and non-governmental organizations who work on the forest issue.

Having said all that, it is true the world’s unfinished business around emissions reductions presents the countries of the world with appallingly difficult choices, and policy decisions whose timelines stretch out far beyond the career of any politician or civil servant.

Let’s take a look at just one example: financing adaptation.

The small percentage of the world’s people who live in the two dozen richest countries are being asked to make changes in the way they live and send a portion of their taxes to people far away living in the poorest countries, the ones mostly deeply affected by climate change.

It’s an income transfer involving billions of dollars meant to help poor countries do the things they must to protect their people from the changes wrought by climate change, some already under way. It’s not clear how much money needs to be collected, how it should be collected, how it should be spent, who should spend it, for how long, and who will check that all along the chain … from the rich world tax collector to the developing world village … nobody’s cheating.

Here in Copenhagen, none of those numbers are fully negotiated. The caucus representing the least developed countries have a figure in mind, and a long timeline of cash transfers, while the rich countries have offered many billions less and a shorter life for the payments program.

Everyone involved has come to Copenhagen with something specific in mind: a goal, a target, a technology, a technique, a demand. It seems like nobody’s happy right now. And it’s starting to look more and more like there won’t be much cause for celebration by Friday night. There may be something agreed to by Friday – but whatever the something is, it may disappoint some of the players.

Ray Suarez will have more from Copenhagen on Wednesday night’s NewsHour.

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