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Climate talks: Clinton promises aid to poor nations – but China may resist

At the Copenhagen climate talks Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US could provide billions in aid to help poorer nations convert to clean technologies. But that's only if countries like China agree to monitoring of their climate change efforts.

By Peter N. SpottsStaff writer / December 17, 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gestures during a press briefing at the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, Thursday. Clinton announced that the United States is prepared to join other rich countries in raising $100 billion in yearly climate financing for poor countries by 2020.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP


Copenhagen, Denmark

In an effort to clear a major hurdle toward a new climate agreement in Copenhagen, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that the United States would take part in efforts to pull together long-term financing for developing countries to the tune of $100 billion a year by 2020.

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The money would come from a combination of government-to-government aid, as well as from private-sector sources.

The US offer falls short of promising specific dollar amounts or what percentage of the tab Washington would be willing to pick up. And it comes with a pair of strings attached. US help will require "a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation," Secretary Clinton said.

"Full transparency" appears to refer to countries like China and India, which have bristled at demands for independent monitoring as an attack on their sovereignty.

Despite the caveats, the offer sends a signal that the US is keen on reaching reaching what Ms. Clinton called a comprehensive, operational climate agreement here.

The US move represents "a big step forward" in the negotiations, says Andrew Deutz, senior policy advisor for UN affairs at The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Va. "In my 15 years of covering these climate talks, I've never seen the US commit to this kind of long-term financing."

Others are less effusive.

The offer is missing details that would give it credibility, according to representatives for ActionAid International, a non-government organization based in Britain that works closely with developing countries on aid and development issues.

Although many negotiators are talking about long-term climate-related financing on the order of $100 billion a year by 2020 for poorer countries, the need amounts to more then $200 billion of government aid a year. Private financing should only be an adjunct to checks drawn on government treasuries, according to Llana Solomon, one of the group's climate specialists.

Setting up China as a roadblock?

Beyond the immediate buzz the offer has generated here, the move also is seen by some as an attempt to move China away from its opposition to outsiders looking in as it implements its national plans. The US and others insist that China's efforts be open to verification. By including verification, alias "transparency," as a condition for helping to marshal aid, the move could set China up as the villain preventing US participation in the long-term aid effort –participation developing countries have seen as crucial to getting a deal here.