It's Humanitarian Day at Copenhagen: How Will the Developed Countries Honor It?


Getting Ready for the Big Day
A day after African nations suspended talks to protest the death of Kyoto, the threats that global warming poses to the poorest countries is back in the spotlight on humanitarian day.

But in the plenary room and in high level back rooms, humanitarian concerns are taking a back seat to the lingering rifts that continue to pollute the atmosphere in Copenhagen. Disappointment is high, focused largely on the developed countries which are reluctant to make the pledges the most endangered countries need. In meetings the sound of crying voices is not uncommon, while inside and outside the Bella Center anger is spreading, registered in protests yesterday and more plans for action tomorrow.

Barring serious cuts and/or financing to the developing world, some are privately saying that collapse of the summit is preferable to a weak deal. Others are counting on the only remaining hope: will the world's still-reigning most valuable player, Barack Obama, make a hail mary pass to the developing world's de facto leader, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao?Negotiators worked late into the night on Monday to narrow gaps on financing and carbon targets and discuss possible taxes on aviation and shipping fuel, effectively rounding out two years' of work. One promising development: the new negotiating text includes a target to cut the rate of deforestation in developing nations 50 percent by 2020.

(See Oxfam's Google Docs table of current developed country commitments)

But as countries prepared to pass the big remaining debates to environmental ministers and heads of state, US and China appeared to become more aggressive in their respective demands. Before the negotiators' bosses arrive in the next few days, a number of sticking points persist:

Financing
China and India are seeking about $200 billion a year -- or 0.5 percent of developed countries' economic output -- so that developing countries can better cope with global warming and create low-income economies (UN climate chief Yvo de Boer and McKinsey both say about that much is need per year between 2010 to 2020). The US has said it will commit its fair share to a fund that lasts until 2012, but despite the encouragement of the EU and Japan, is reluctant to make any firm pledges beyond that.

After first saying that it "probably" wouldn't take that money -- a move that would quell consternation in the US over giving money to its main economic rival -- China has reaffirmed it wants some of it. But Beijing wants to see most funds go to its developing nation brethren.

China's lead negotiator said he was "shocked" that the US had rejected the notion that developing countries were owed a "debt" or "reparations" for climate damage. "We are not asking for donations. Industrialised countries have a legal obligation -- the US included. Whoever created the problem is responsible," said He.

Even American companies are lobbying Obama for big developing country climate aid. More than two dozen U.S. firms including Dow Chemical Co., and Microsoft Corp. today urged Obama to propose a climate agreement that includes "significant" reduction targets and "substantial" climate funding for developing countries.

"We must put the United States on the path to significant emissions reductions, a stronger economy and a new position of leadership to stabilize our climate," read a letter signed by the companies that was delivered to the president. "The costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of actions."

Verified Cuts
The US has repeatedly indicated that any climate deal would need to keep China and other countries honest, with internationally "measurable, reportable and verifiable" actions. The outcome of the actions need not be guaranteed, but the measures would need to be verifiable.

China's neogitator He Yafei has refused, as "a matter of principle," but said that China's mitigation actions would be effective nonetheless. He also insisted the burden of a climate deal would remain on developed countries.

"China will not be an obstacle [to a deal]. The obstacle now is from developed countries," he told the FT. "I know people will say if there is no deal that China is to blame. This is a trick played by the developed countries. They have to look at their own position and can't use China as an excuse. That is not fair."

Moon: Stop the Finger Pointing Already
Like a worried parent, UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon weighed in on Tuesday, urging China, the US and others to get real. "This is a time where they should exercise the leadership," Ban told the AP today. "And this is a time to stop pointing fingers, and this is a time to start looking in the mirror and offering what they can do more, both the developed and the developing countries."

Real teamwork will now be left up largely to Barack Obama and Wen Jiabao, who are due to arrive in the Danish capital tomorrow. Without much progress today, it's possible that by the time the conference passes the football to Obama, it will only be full of hot air.

Tags: Copenhagen