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Will nations build on climate-change momentum of 2007?

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Newly influential developing countries must be part of any new agreement if it's to gain political traction and have a meaningful long-term effect. In a first, those countries, along with the European Union, stared down the US over final wording in the road map at the Bali talks, and the US blinked.

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To move forward this year, negotiators may try to set an agenda that starts with issues the White House is most comfortable with, such as technological approaches to reducing CO2 emissions. Tougher issues – binding emissions targets for industrial countries and more-flexible goals that appeal to developing countries – may wait for a new US administration. At the least, analysts say, they will be watching to see if the White House tries to block elements it doesn't like.

Track 2: The Bush administration's Major Economies Meetings (MEM) on Energy Security and Climate Change. The idea is to gather the major emitters – responsible for some 80 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions – to explore paths to reducing emissions significantly under a new agreement. Representatives from 17 countries, the European Union, and the UN took part in the first meeting in Washington last September. Now, the process is set to go into high gear, beginning with a meeting at the end of January in Hawaii. According to James Connaughton, who heads the president's Council on Environmental Quality, the meetings will look for ways to help support the new Bali road map.

But many environmentalists worry that the White House is trying to replace the UN Bali process with the MEM one. A key indicator of how much stock participants place in the Bush meetings will be the clout of the teams they send. By some accounts, the White House plans five or six MEM meetings even as participants face an ambitious UN negotiating schedule. Analysts will be watching where the "A" teams go for a hint about the relative priority the Bush process receives. And they will be watching to see how smoothly any final results, which may come as early as July, feed into the UN process.

Will climate-change bills in Congress move forward?

Last month, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. According to its sponsors, the bill covers greenhouse-gas sources that account for 80 percent of US emissions; they would have to cut those emissions by 70 percent by 2050, leading to an overall cut in US emissions of 63 percent below 1990 levels. Those levels are comparable to the cuts most scientists say are needed from developed countries to hold global warming to around 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Passage is not certain, but the bill's prospects appear to be improving. For one thing, the president is trying to burnish his legacy and avoid dropping a high-profile environmental issue into Democratic laps in an election year.