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Draft climate proposal leaks out in Copenhagen

December 8, 2009 |  8:08 am

COPENHAGEN – After an opening day of pomp and hope-sowing, the largely behind-the-scenes negotiations for a new global climate treaty have begun in earnest here in the Danish capital.

That means it’s time for the bargaining-table leaks to begin, as veterans of past climate summits will tell you.

Sure enough, we have our first leak this afternoon: a copy of a proposal  floated by the Danish government for “The Copenhagen Agreement” under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

And sure enough, it’s less notable for what it says than for what it conspicuously leaves out.

The draft text provides a basic framework for what climate negotiators call a “political agreement” – a sort of nuts-and-bolts declaration of actions to reduce the heat-trapping gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming. It's one of several proposals rumored to be on the table, including one from China.

The Danish proposal stipulates that nations agree they must limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. It sets emissions-reductions targets for both developed and developing countries, but with very different goals.  Richer nations would agree to cut their emissions from historical levels, while poorer nations agree to reduce emissions compared to projected levels.

Perhaps most notable in the eyes of many environmental groups, the draft commits richer nations to providing money and technology to help poorer ones reduce their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change – in the “immediate, medium and long-term.” The “long-term” is something that developing nations and green groups have insisted on.

The text also makes some key decisions, environmentalists say, on issues such as forest protection and how to verify nations' emissions reductions.

Much more important are the blanks the draft leaves unfilled.

It sets no targets for developed or developing countries' individual emissions reductions, though many countries have announced their plans in recent days. It sets a long-range emissions-reduction goal for the developed world – 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 – but not a short-range goal.

There are no dollar figures on the aid proposals and no deadline for nations to turn the “political agreement” into a legal treaty that, say, the U.S. Senate could vote to ratify.

Those blanks, of course, are the biggest issues of debate here in Copenhagen -- and negotiators hope to complete them in time for President Obama and other world leaders to sign an agreement at the end of next week.

Still, some environmental groups, particularly those working closely with developing countries, were unimpressed with the early proposal.

"The Danish proposal falls far short of emissions cuts needed, and remains vague on the climate cash,” Oxfam International, a group concerned with climate and global poverty issues, said in a press release after obtaining the draft text.

The World Wildlife Fund's Kim Carstensen said in a statement that the text is "weak and reflects a too elitist, selective and non-transparent approach by the Danish presidency."

-- Jim Tankersley