President Obama confers with staffers in the Oval Office before his departure… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
Reporting from Copenhagen — Key concessions from the United States and China jolted climate negotiations Thursday in Copenhagen, providing optimism a day before President Obama joins other world leaders seeking a new international agreement on controlling greenhouse gases.
But success hinged on two issues that have vexed diplomats throughout the two-week summit: an agreement between America and China on how to ensure that fast-developing nations follow through with their pledges to limit emissions; and whether poor nations will accept smaller emission cuts than they would like from wealthy countries in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in financial assistance.
Negotiators made strides on both fronts Thursday after weeks of classic hardball bargaining that included public barbs and little budging.
The Obama administration announced that it would join allies in raising $100 billion a year by 2020 to help the world's poorest countries adapt to climate change. The amount, a number that stunned many environmentalists with its size, appears to meet the top demand of China, whose stalemate with the U.S. had bogged down the negotiations.
In response, the Chinese signaled that they were moving toward satisfying the top American demand, that developing nations such as China and India limit their greenhouse gas emissions as their economies grow and that those limits must be subject to outside verification.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters in a news conference that his government is open to "dialogue and cooperation that is not intrusive, that does not infringe on China's sovereignty," a major departure in language from the country's staunch opposition to transparency measures throughout the talks.
U.S. officials called the day extremely productive and said they had seen several other countries coming forward to pressure China to accept a transparency deal.
Still, a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that it is "impossible to anticipate where this will end."
Negotiators face a marathon session today. But nonprofit groups working closely with all sides said negotiators appeared to be moving toward compromise on the central issues of transparency, money and emission limits.
"We're better than 50-50" to get a deal, said Ned Helme, a climate negotiations veteran and president of the Center for Clean Air Policy.
"The shape of the deal is clear," Helme said. "You've got the three pieces in play."
The heads of state who streamed into the Bella Center, the conference site, raised the stakes and the import of the talks by another notch. One by one, they took the microphone to exhort the summit to action.
"We must start to negotiate right now," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told fellow leaders after calling on Europe, the United States, China and African nations to moderate their positions to reach consensus.
Behind the scenes, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat down for talks with leaders of several nations, including China.
She announced the long-term aid package in a morning news conference. She said the unspecified U.S. share of the $100 billion would come from public and private sources, would fund measures such as protecting carbon-heavy forests from logging and would be contingent on nations reaching a broad agreement here that would lay the groundwork for a new treaty to combat global warming.
She made it clear that the offer would expire at the end of the summit if no deal is reached and that any agreement would need to include a way to verify that developing nations are fulfilling their emission pledges.
The U.S. had been criticized throughout the early days of the conference for not offering a long-term dollar figure. Asked why the Americans waited until the penultimate day to make that pledge, the senior administration official replied, "It's a negotiation."
The announcement appeared to impress Chinese officials, who had told other nations during overnight talks Wednesday that China was doubtful that any broad agreement could be reached in Copenhagen.
Andrew Deutz, director of international government relations for the Nature Conservancy, called it "a huge step forward toward common ground" and "the type of high-level political offer that we've been looking for world leaders to bring to Copenhagen to reach a global deal."
More strident groups said the money fell short.
"Climate change is already killing people in Africa, and this commitment is simply insufficient to tackle the climate crisis," Mithika Mwenda, coordinator of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a news release.
Government officials and observers involved with the talks said the U.S. funding announcement appeared to be triggering a chain reaction that could lead to a broad agreement. The long-term funding offer, those sources said, had pleased many African and island-nation delegates who had complained that wealthy nations were not offering deep enough reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
These delegates have begun to pressure China and India to compromise with the United States on transparency provisions.
Obama was to meet one-on-one today with several leaders and address the conference's morning session in a speech that aides said would "reaffirm America's commitment" to climate action.