Copenhagen Boycott Averted; Cash For Trees On Table As rumors of a secret deal to jettison the Kyoto Protocol spread, developing countries threatened to boycott the talks. But some progress is made on a program that would pay countries to not cut down trees.
NPR logo Copenhagen Boycott Averted; Cash For Trees On Table

Copenhagen Boycott Averted; Cash For Trees On Table

A person dressed as "death" rides past a balloon indicating the volume of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide, outside parliament in Copenhagen on Monday. Peter Dejong/AP hide caption

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Peter Dejong/AP

A person dressed as "death" rides past a balloon indicating the volume of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide, outside parliament in Copenhagen on Monday.

Peter Dejong/AP

Rhetoric ruled at least part of the day in Copenhagen, as developing countries, led by African delegations, threatened to boycott the talks. Their beef: Western countries, they said, were preparing in secret meetings to jettison the Kyoto Protocol and forge a new international deal on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. By the end of the day, the African walkout was canceled, just as walkouts at previous climate meetings were threatened and then abandoned after much public hand-wringing.

The theatrics weren't confined to official delegations. Over the weekend, demonstrators organized huge marches in the city to urge more action from negotiators inside. Given that the thousands of negotiators inside the forum were making so little progress, it gave the assembled media horde material for film and fulmination.

Chopping Block For Kyoto?

In fact, however, the Kyoto Protocol could well be in peril. It requires developed countries to reduce emissions over a four-year period ending in 2012. The idea in Copenhagen is to either extend it or replace it. Developing nations aren't required to reduce their emissions under the protocol — thus their consternation over losing that privileged status under some new deal. What developing countries fear — and so far refuse to discuss — is the idea that a new climate regime will legally require them to reduce their own emissions. They have reason to suspect that that likelihood is in the works, since negotiators from Europe, Japan and the United States have said it's time for some of the less economically developed nations to accept binding limits.

That demand is a new tack in the rich world's negotiating stance. It stems in part from the fact that while industrialized nations have traditionally been by far the largest emitters, now they're not. China is the world's leading greenhouse gas polluter, with Indonesia at No. 3 and India not far behind. (The United States rings in at No. 2.) Those countries counter that it's the past, not the present, that's more important. Indeed, some delegations are calling for "reparations" from wealthy countries for their legacy of carbon pollution.

Another thorn that's hobbled progress in Copenhagen is money. All parties agree that developing countries will need financial help to go "green," while still raising standards of living and their economies. The question is how much.

So far, the West has offered to kick off a global aid effort with $10 billion a year for three years, with more money to follow. Delegates to various developing countries have scoffed at this as too little — one calculation put it at $2 a person in the developing world. But richer nations point out that there's a worldwide recession to recover from.

Moreover, efforts by donor nations to require some sort of accounting of how that money will be spent have been rebuffed by developing nations. Without a way to assure that the money is well-spent, checkbooks aren't open very wide.

Cash For Trees

Some progress has bubbled up on the issue of tropical forests. The plan, called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), is another way to transfer wealth from rich to poor nations, at least those with forests. The idea is to pay poor countries not to cut down trees, which store carbon. Negotiators and numerous environmental groups have been honing language on how to do that, and on Monday they managed to agree on language to create a REDD program as part of a post-Kyoto deal.

Developing countries agreed to some numbers — specifically, they would seek to reduce deforestation (which contributes about 15 percent of the world's greenhouse gases to the atmosphere) by half by 2020, and to zero by 2030, contingent on adequate payment from industrialized countries. They also agreed to accept some sort of outside verification of their rate of deforestation, which they had objected to before.

One positive development, though, came from Steven Chu, secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy who's attending the conference. He announced an international fund of $350 million to help developing countries adopt clean-energy technologies. The U.S. share would be $85 million.

With four days left on the official schedule, and the impending arrival of numerous heads of state looking for a rousing finish and photo op, negotiations are likely to reach a boil fairly soon.