24 hours to go

The day began with a rumour that China’s negotiator had told US negotiator Todd Stern in the small hours of the morning that there would be no deal. The incident remains obscure. What is clear is that in the freezing Danish dawn, the critical negotiating texts still boasted more than 100 sets of the square brackets that indicate points remaining to be agreed. There was a long way to go.

The Bella Centre  seems eerily quiet since thousands of civil society observers were excluded. Their stands sit deserted under piles of abandoned leaflets and boxes of undistributed reports; their side events have been cancelled or relocated. In their place, there are heavyweight government delegations to accompany the 119 heads of state and government who have made this one of the biggest summit conferences ever held. A substantial US congressional delegation led by Nancy Pelosi arrived today; Wen Jiabao and his entourage flew in last night. Hundreds of security details control who has access to which parts of the complex. The former British deputy prime minister John Prescott sits blogging in a corner. In the plenary session a long line of prime ministers waits to make their speeches; off stage, a core group of countries frantically tries to broker a deal that will allow their leaders to claim an achievement. The machinery to deliver the deal is on the verge of breakdown. It is still possible that it could  give way.


The mood lifter of the day was Hillary Clinton’s announcement that the US would try to mobilise $100 billion  a year for climate aid by 2020, in partnership with other countries. It sounds impressive until we recall that investment in renewable energy topped $120 billion last year, and the Secretary of State did not say how much the US would contribute to the putative effort. No country would receive aid, she stressed, without transparency – a nod to the ongoing exchange between China and the US on verification.

How real is this issue? Much of the US insistence on the need for Chinese transparency is for domestic consumption. The Chinese side is making reassuring noises and promising transparent national verification. He Yafei, China’s vice foreign minister, said that China’s actions will be fully legally guaranteed domestically and that emissions reductions will figure in China’s next five year plan, so the government intends to initiate the corresponding monitoring and verification regime. “We are willing to enhance and improve national communication to enhance transparency,” he added. “We are also willing to offer explanation and clarification if need be. We can also consider, in terms of mitigation actions, international exchange, dialogue and cooperation that is not intrusive, that does not infringe upon China’s sovereignty.”

As far as China’s targets go, Mr He said that Wen Jiabao insisted that China’s existing targets were based on science and were not negotiable.  They were also, he promised, unconditional, and not linked to anyone else’s efforts. Whatever the outcome here in Copenhagen, China promises to meet its targets. There are long hours of last ditch talks ahead before we know whether that is the best that will emerge.