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New drafts bring more hope to Copenhagen

December 11, 2009 | 10:17 am

COPENHAGEN -- A flurry of draft proposals for new international climate agreements hit international negotiators today, bringing with them what many delegates and environmentalists called new momentum toward a climate deal.

Two drafts carry particular importance for the talks. One is a plan to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (PDF), which sets greenhouse gas emission reductions for wealthy nations, but which the United States never ratified. The mere existence of that plan buoyed developing nations and international green groups, which have long worried that a Copenhagen climate agreement would spell the death of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The second draft (PDF) is a new agreement, proposed as a Kyoto companion, which would include U.S. emissions cuts and, as written, call upon developing nations to reduce emissions.  Authored by Michael Zammit Cutajar, the chairman of a working group that has toiled for two years, that draft begins to lay out the details of what most delegates call the likely result of the Copenhagen conference: a sort of framework climate deal that paves the way for a new international treaty in the next year or two.

Both drafts received a warm welcome here in Copenhagen’s Bella Center – particularly compared to the protests staged by developing countries and nonprofits over the so-called “Danish text” draft that leaked to news media earlier this week.

Plenty of details were left unfilled, including plans for financial aid from rich nations to help poorer ones adapt to changing climates and shift to low-emission energy sources. But longtime observers of climate talks said today's key drafts showed a level of seriousness on finding consensus on key issues not normally seen in the first week of a two-week negotiating conference.

“The texts take huge steps forward from where we’ve been,” said Keya Chatterjee, director of international climate negotiations for the World Wildlife Fund. “We’ve been waiting for a long time to have workable text that had buy-in” from negotiators.

Still, neither draft solves what has emerged as the chief stumbling block to a deal: the insistence, by the United States and other developed nations, that fast-growing developing countries such as China and India make clear in any agreement that they will follow through on their emissions-reduction pledges – and that the world has a way of independently checking whether those pledges are in fact being honored.

Underscoring the work left to do, U.S. Special Climate Envoy Todd Stern told reporters today that the proposed new agreement is “unbalanced in many ways” when it comes to emissions cuts. “The United States is not going to do a deal until developing countries step up,” he said.

But keeping with the optimism of the day, Stern said later, “I don’t think we’re all that far apart, based on the conversations we’ve had” with China. He added: “There actually literally is language that we both can agree to if we get to kind of the serious stage, and we’re getting there, I hope.”  Stern dismissed as impractical a third draft proposal, which a group of small island nations put forward early this morning. That draft would set far more aggressive reduction targets in order to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, as compared to the 2-degree goal the United States and other economic powers have embraced.

A press release from the island nations said the draft was designed “to safeguard the earth’s climate system and to secure the future survival of its 43 members, and the other low-lying and vulnerable developing countries at the front line of the devastating impacts of climate change.”

That proposal, however, was not the most ambitious of the day. Activists at Klimaforum09, a protest running parallel to the Copenhagen talks, issued a “People’s Declaration” for climate change (PDF), which a press release said would “initiate the restoration of the environmental, social and economic balance of planet Earth by means that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable and equitable.”

The proposal, which was not widely discussed by delegates, calls for fossil fuels to be phased out globally within 30 years; for wealthy nations to pay a “climate debt” to the developing world; and for the rejection of “false and dangerous solutions” such as nuclear power, biofuels and technology to capture and store the greenhouse emissions from coal.

-- Jim Tankersley