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US pledge fuels hope for climate agreement

Secretary of state stands her ground but buoyant mood is dented by Sarkozy's fear that talks are 'heading for disaster'.

COPENHAGEN // Climate talks sprang into life yesterday with the arrival of key world leaders and a pledge by the United States to help fund aid worth US$100 billion (Dh367bn) to developing countries. Although negotiators have only one day to resolve vast differences over how to best fight climate change, officials said the talks were no longer deadlocked and an agreement could be reached.

"The cable car is moving again," said Yvo de Boer, the top United Nations climate official leading the talks, evoking his favoured metaphor. "We now have clarity on the process." The US, under pressure from world leaders who say it is insufficiently committed to fighting climate change, stole the show with the arrival of its secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. "There should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to reaching a successful agreement," said Mrs Clinton, who pledged to work to heal a growing rift at the summit between industrialised and developing nations.

However, her optimistic note was later tempered by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who gave warning that the talks were "heading for disaster" and suggested maintaining the Kyoto Protocol, which would be against the European Union's position. Mrs Clinton said the US would not give ground on its position that aid to developing countries to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change would require a verification regime to ensure that the aid was used correctly.

"We have lost precious time. In the time we have left, it can no longer be about us versus them," Mrs Clinton said. "In the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation, the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilising $100 billion a year by 2020."

Mrs Clinton did not say how much of that figure would come from the US. She also declined to say how much the US would offer developing countries in short-term financing. Nearly all world leaders have backed the concept of climate aid from richer to poorer countries. Industrialised countries created the bulk of carbon now in the atmosphere, the reasoning goes, and have agreed that they bear some responsibility for reducing the harmful effects of rising sea levels, extreme weather and droughts for vulnerable countries like Bangladesh and Yemen.

A broad consensus has developed around a need for $30bn over the next three years to "kick-start" adaptation efforts, to which the EU has pledged $11bn and Japan $15bn. America's demand for verification would continue to be a sticking point, experts said. China, the world's largest source of carbon emissions, has argued that an official auditing process would violate the principle of voluntary cuts for developing countries.

But Mrs Clinton said: "It would be hard to imagine there would be this level of financial commitment from the US in the absence of transparency from the biggest emitter." Mr Sarkozy told delegates: "Time is against us, let's stop posturing. A failure would be a catastrophe for each and every one of us. We need to change track or we are heading for disaster." The EU wants to replace the Kyoto Protocol because it does not bind climate actions by all developed countries and does not require anything from developing nations.

cstanton@thenational.ae * With agencies

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