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.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP
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.

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.

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.

"China has positioned itself in solidarity with the rest of the developing world. The US has responded to one of the major concerns developing countries have," says Dr. Deutz, referring to calls from poor countries for dedicated aid to help them adapt to the effects of global warming, as well as to buy the technologies they will need to lift their populations out of poverty in a climate-friendly way.

Now, he says, "the major quid-pro-quo will have to come from China."

"We do need China to accept transparency as part of this process," said US Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts, who was in Copenhagen for the day with House colleagues, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) of California. "It is going to be indispensable. It ensures that every country in the world is doing their fair share."

Lawmakers in the US are likely to look for Chinese assurance as they continue to push energy and climate legislation through the Senate. Many lawmakers are worried that an agreement that doesn't include the Asian giant in a verifiable way would give China an unfair advantage in world markets. A clear signal that China will accept international verification could ease that concern among lawmakers.

The aid offer was something of a bank shot, says Alden Meyer, director of policy and planning for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington – a fire-sale offer good for two days and two days only.

The approach appears to have prompted the Chinese to budge a bit from their hardline stand. At a briefing this afternoon, China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei said China will not allow monitoring of projects it pays for itself, but will allow monitoring on projects that are paid for with international assistance. He added that "trust is extremely important."

"We are willing to enhance and improve ways of national communication," he said, referring to the reporting procedures countries undertake as part
of the UN climate process. "We also are willing in a voluntary fashion to have explanations and clarifications if need be" in response to questions from outside the country.

How far China is willing to go on verification remains to be seen. Assuming the final agreement contains stout language on verification, several observers suggest that the details of establishing a regime for monitoring, reporting, and verifying actions developing countries and the US take likely will be punted into next year, when negotiators are expected to work out the legal language for a formal climate-treaty companion to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

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