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Time is running out

It’s the final day of COP15. Obama addressed the talks this morning, saying: “There is no time to waste. … We must choose action over inaction; the future over the past.” Negotiations are still deadlocked, though, and a deal is far from certain.

Here’s a run down of what’s on the negotiating table and what issues remain stumbling blocks.

Emissions cuts: A leaked U.N. document shows that a huge gap remains between the amount of emissions cuts that nations have pledged thus far and what is needed to keep global temperature rise below 2°C – a level scientists say would be a tipping point for runaway climate change.

Obama has committed the U.S. to a 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, which equals merely a 4% reduction based on 1990 levels, which has long been the benchmark year used to account for emissions reduction. The E.U. has pledge to reduce its emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, 30% if other leading emitters boost their commitments. China and India have pledged to reduce their economies’ carbon intensity – a ratio between economic growth and emissions produced. China has committed to a 40 – 45% reduction, India to 24%.

Poor and low-lying nations have demanded significant increases in rich nations’ pledges and argued that temperature rise should be kept below 1.5°C.

Ambassador Dessima Williams of Grenada, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said today: "The fact that more than a hundred countries are calling for global warming to be limited to less than 1.5°C shatters the mythology that 2°C is an acceptable target, and instead highlights the broad consensus that climate mitigation goals should be based on up-to-date climate science."

It’s very unlikely that additional offers will be made. The E.U. might unilaterally increase its commitment to 30% but don’t expect the U.S. to increase its commitment. Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham recently lowered the emissions target in a proposed climate bill that they are pushing.

China and India are unlikely to boost their targets either, arguing that under the Kyoto Protocol, developing economies need only agree to voluntary targets and the historic responsibility of climate change rests squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. and the big E.U. nations.

Financing: Even the most modest goals for short- and long-term financing of poor and developing countries remain unmet. In order for developing economies to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, developed countries need to pledge billions of dollars in the short term and several billions of dollars a year by 2020.

UNFCCC Secretary Yvo de Boer has called for fast track financing of $10 billion a year beginning in 2010, running through 2012. Estimates of the amount of financing needed over the long-term vary. The G77 has called for $400 billion dollars a year by 2020, the E.U. $100 billion.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. would contribute to a $100 billion long-term fund. She did not, however, specify the amount that the U.S. would pledge. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced that it would provide $1 billion in short-term financing for efforts at curbing deforestation, which accounts for 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Also outstanding is what form financing from the U.S. and E.U. will take. How much will be public funds? How much will come via private-sector investment? Poor countries are demanding that the majority of the funds come in the form of government financing.

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace Executive Director, has pointed out several times during COP15 talks that the developed economies have spent trillions dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in order to bail out the financial markets.

Monitoring, Reporting, Verification: This arcane issue could turn out to be the make or break topic at COP15. Often described as “transparency,” MRV is the mechanism for demonstrating - through a combination of satellite and on-the ground observations - actual emissions reductions. China and India have resisted outside scrutiny of how much they cut their emissions.

The U.S. has been pressing China on this issue heavily and has made "transparency" a pre-condition for receiving climate financing.

The Treaty: If there’s a deal what form does it take?

Expectations that a legally binding treaty would emerge from COP15 have for weeks been lowered by several heads of state, who say that they are aiming for a political deal that will be signed sometime in early 2010.

The Alliance of Small Island States has proposed extending the Kyoto Protocol to 2017 and creating a “Copenhagen Treaty” that would bring the U.S. into a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions.

Talk has already begun, though, that even a political deal is out of reach at COP15 and that negotiations are now intended to lay the foundation for COP16 talks in Mexico.

That’s right: COP16 – the most important international summit in history.

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