San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hope Dims At Climate Change Conference

Hope for an operational political deal to provide aid to developing countries and set emissions reduction targets had begun to fade this week in the waning hours of the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

According to The Berlingske Tidende, a Danish daily newspaper, the Danish government, which was responsible for writing a text on Wednesday evening that would form the basis for a global political accord, abandoned any attempt to do so. The report said that disputes among developing and developed countries had made it difficult to find common ground.

On Wednesday evening, Costa Rica’s chief negotiator at the talks, Alvaro Umaña, expressed frustration and disappointment about the pace of the conference and the lack of consensus by mid-week.

“Less than 72 hours from the conclusion of this international meeting, it seems incredible that we cannot predict if we are going toward success or colossal failure,” he wrote in an e-mailed account that reflected his view of the conference as of Wednesday.

“This is a testimony to the profound divisions among countries and reflects the incapacity of all political leaders to face the biggest challenge of our era,” Umaña said. “If we don’t arrive at an agreement, it won’t be for a lack of effort. The pace here has been frantic. The delegation works until the early morning hours.

“Why is there no advance? Why are we stuck? These are the greatest questions we must ask ourselves.”

Costa Rica headed to the negotiations with stiff demands for the developed world, requiring that industrialized nations cut emissions by 45 percent before 2020 and by 95 percent before 2050, compared to 1990 levels. They also demanded that developed countries offer financial aid to developing countries.

The Danish are prepared to commit roughly $235 million between 2010 and 2012 in aid for developing nations to jumpstart climate change mitigation projects. The European Union (EU), as a whole, said it will donate close to $10 billion between 2010 and 2012 to these nations.

Japan hopes to pony up $15 billion in aid during the same time period. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday announced at the conference that the U.S. will contribute to a $100 billion-per-year fund for developing countries over the course of the next decade, although she did not specify the amount of the U.S. contribution.

But all of these potential contributions are contingent on a political deal that had not been reached as of Thursday afternoon. Clinton’s Thursday announcement offered a glimmer of hope, and many are relying on U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival at the summit today to help spur a breakthrough.

The most optimistic observers believe that Obama’s speech in the closing hours of the conference could give the world’s delegations an extra push toward finding a political consensus.

China, considered a major player in the negotiations, also has signaled in recent days its willingness to reach a political agreement. Many had wondered if the Asian nation would be disposed to cap its emissions at the same time it is emerging as a global industrial leader, with an economy that has a lot at stake.

“I can assure you that the Chinese delegation that came to Copenhagen has not given up,” Yu Qingtai, China’s climate change ambassador, told Reuters news agency. “Copenhagen is too important to fail.”

Grouped with the developing G-77 countries, China would qualify for financial aid allotted for these nations, pending a political agreement.

But the G-77 block’s sheer diversity has made finding the basis for a general yay or nay for even the most basic texts almost impossible.

Michael Levi, a climate change specialist with the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, posted in a blog from Copenhagen that “the richest G-77 nations are 50 times as wealthy on a per capita basis as the poorest ones.”

He told The New York Times that “all of this makes a common, yet constructive, position very difficult. The easiest thing to agree on is to obstruct action.”

On Monday some of the nations at the lower economic end of the G-77 derailed negotiations when they threatened to walk out of the conference after few financial aid commitments had been made.

Costa Rican delegates estimate that the country will need $7 billion in assistance for initiatives that would significantly reduce national carbon emissions. Negotiators will leverage their demands for financial aid with the country’s 2021 carbon neutral goal.

But without a political accord that would funnel financial aid to Central America, even Umaña admitted that Costa Rica’s ambitious goal could fade quicker than his short, two-week visit to northern Europe.

“We have placed emphasis on the fact that this goal is reachable with international cooperation,” he wrote. “In this conference we have been negotiating words and not decisions. I would like to believe that the conference is going to conclude successfully, but this is not yet possible.”

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