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Opinion: Still hope for Copenhagen summit

With the US lagging, climate talks in Copenhagen may be destined to fail. But some hold out hope.

Markey and his Chinese counterpart were in Copenhagen as part of a gathering of legislators from 19 countries, meeting to discuss what could be done about climate change. While the conference wasn’t part of the official negotiations, it represented an opportunity for those
attending to express the views of the countries they represented.

For the Chinese, it was chance to stress not only the environmental commitments the country has made (Beijing recently instituted targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency), but also the limits imposed by the widespread poverty in their countryside.

“We are a developing country and our situation is one that is shared by all developing countries,” said Wang. “We’re working on reconciling economic development with energy consumption.”

The Americans too had an excuse — namely that until recently the U.S. government was committed to delaying the fight against climate change. “Let’s be honest,” Markey told the assembled legislators. “It’s taken some time, especially for certain leaders in the United States, to accept the science.”

Still, there is potential for a breakthrough. The primary point of agreement among the gathered lawmakers was that funding will be needed to help poor countries reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The proposed funds — which could exceed $100 billion per year — would provide the developing world both the means and motivation to sign up for cuts it might not otherwise agree to.

“If December comes and the developing countries don’t feel like there’s a pay off for them, then the whole Copenhagen problem will grind to a halt,” said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's climate and energy minister.

Even so, world leaders have already started to move the goal posts. While launching a last minute push, they’ve acknowledged that the meeting in December is unlikely to result in a comprehensive agreement.

“Even if we can’t agree to every single legal detail in Copenhagen, it should not be an excuse for postponing activity,” said Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister. “I don’t want to spend words defining a failure, but I can use them to define success.”