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Climate talks yo-yo – again

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought the UN climate talks back from the brink of collapse Dec. 17, with a dramatic proposal that the United States will contribute to a $100 billion international aid fund starting in 2020 if all major nations commit their emissions reductions to a binding agreement and submit those reductions to verification.

The financing of climate aid for poor nations and the verification of China’s voluntary actions to reduce the growth of its emissions address two key issues blocking an agreement at the Copenhagen summit.

Clinton’s announcement came after nearly two weeks of silence from the U.S., during which poorer nations accused richer countries of failing to agree to finance countries that lack the means to fund their own climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, and of failing to make solid commitments to verifiably reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Clinton noted that monies for the pledged $100 billion would come from public and private sources but emphasized funds were conditional upon reaching an agreement in which all nations would commit to meaningful emissions curbs and monitoring. “It’s hard to imagine this level of financial commitment. ... without transparency,” she told reporters, adding, “if there’s not a commitment to transparency, that’s a deal-breaker for us.”

In response, China said it is willing to provide details about its actions to control carbon emissions. Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters China is ready for “dialogue and cooperation that is not intrusive, that does not infringe on China’s sovereignty.”

Clinton’s move is the latest in a summit remarkable for its twists and turns. Just before resigning as president of the U.N. climate change summit Dec. 16, Danish Minister Connie Hedegaard, told delegates they must choose between “fame or shame” and between “action or stalemate.”

Also Dec. 16, Danish police fired tear gas and beat back environmental and indigenous activists and protesters at the Bella Center.

The talks fell into disarray at the beginning when a secret agreement between a group understood to include the UK, U.S. and Denmark was leaked. Members of the G77 representing 130 countries and some indigenous groups staged a five-hour walk out Dec. 14 over concerns the Kyoto Protocol was being abandoned. The agreement would have abandoned the Kyoto’s protocol, the only legally binding treaty the world has on emissions reductions. It would have given more power to rich countries, handed control of climate change finance to the World Bank, and made any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.

President Obama is set to arrive today, the day the climate summit concludes.