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Nations seek climate financing for poor countries

JOHN HEILPRIN
Associated Press Writer

COPENHAGEN (AP) – European nations pressed former East bloc neighbors to help create a multibillion-dollar fund for poor countries suffering the most from global warming, while key U.S. senators signaled progress on legislation in line with what President Barack Obama will pledge at the U.N. climate conference next week.

The release Thursday of the legislative blueprint was timed to bolster the argument by U.S. delegates in Copenhagen that Washington is taking climate change seriously and that Congress is making progress – albeit slowly – on reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

There were questions, meanwhile, about how to distribute the money, $10 billion a year in fast-track funds for developing countries.

U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing said the U.S. is willing to pay its fair share, but he added that donors “don’t have unlimited largesse to disburse.”

At the European Union summit Thursday, European governments committed a total of $2.6 billion (euro1.8 billion) a year for 2010-2012 for the short-term climate fund, or a three-year total of $7.9 billion (euro5.4 billion), according to a French official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions will continue Friday.

That official said the figure so far falls short of EU target of $3.2 billion( euro2.2 billion) a year for the period.

But the less-affluent former East bloc countries are reluctant to participate in costly emissions cuts or to give to a fund intended to help developing nations.

Developing nations are pressing the U.S., Europeans, Japanese and others for more upfront money and for assurances about long-term financing.

Industrialized countries so far are talking only about three years of funding at $10 billion a year. Much of that would go toward training, planning and getting a fix on needs.

At the Copenhagen conference, where 192 countries are trying to negotiate a climate pact, U.S. industrialist George Soros said the proposed $10 billion fund is short of what’s needed. He warned that the gap between developed and developing nations on financing “could actually wreck the conference.”

“It is possible to substantially increase the amount available to fight global warming in the developing world,” the billionaire said. “All that is lacking is the political will. Unfortunately the political will be difficult to gather because of the mere fact that it requires congressional approval in the United States.”

The financing is intended to help poorer nations to build coastal protection, modify or shift crops threatened by drought, build water supplies and irrigation systems, preserve forests, improve health care to deal with diseases spread by warming, and move from fossil fuel to low-carbon energy systems, such as solar and wind power.

In a boost for the U.S. negotiating position, three senators of different political stripes said legislation that they were working would seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020 was “achievable and reasonable.” The new limit puts their goal in line with a bill passed by the House in June and with what Obama will pledge at Copenhagen.

But the senators admitted that even with other compromises aimed at broadening support – such as incentives for more nuclear power and expanded offshore drilling for oil and gas – they still didn’t have the 60 votes required for passage. The bill is not expected to be voted on by the full Senate until spring.

Senate Democrats, led by John Kerry of Massachusetts, had initially sought a higher target of a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.

Kerry has for weeks been working with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on broadening the Senate bill in hopes of gaining more Republican support. No Republican senator has endorsed the legislation Democrats pushed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, although Graham supports the need to address climate change and mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases.

Rich and poor nations are pressing behind closed doors and in open forums at the conference to bridge wide differences and reach agreements on how to combat global warming. They have just a week to deliver something for Obama and 100 other national leaders to sign on Dec. 18, the final day of the summit.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also will attend next week, the Kremlin said, raising expectations that a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms deal also could be signed then.

U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said a growing number of environment ministers will be coming to Copenhagen this weekend – earlier than planned – to take up higher-level negotiations prior to the arrival of presidents and prime ministers on Dec. 16-17.

“I sense that there is a real seriousness now to negotiate,” de Boer said.

In one key area, delegates are trying to agree on how much industrialized nations should reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases after the 2012 expiration of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which covered 37 richer nations. The U.S. had rejected Kyoto.

An agreement is also expected to include voluntary national plans by emerging economic powers China and India for scaling back emissions growth.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose agency oversees a fifth of all the nation’s lands, pledged that the Obama administration will be “working very closely every day” to urge Congress to enact U.S. climate legislation.

Salazar, a former senator, vowed the U.S. will eventually adopt a comprehensive new law to cut greenhouse gases and someday be “putting a price on carbon through pollution limits.”

Hundreds of people at the conference crowded around TV screens in the corridors to watch Obama accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Poor countries challenged Obama, as a Nobel winner and a man with African ancestry, to come up with funds to fight climate change.

“This is what we expect from him as one of the advocates of new multilateralism,” said Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan, the head of the 135-nation bloc of developing countries. He also called on the Obama administration to join the Kyoto accord – something that U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern had ruled out a day earlier.

Contributing to this report were Dina Cappiello in Washington, Mike Corder and Raf Casert in Brussels, and Special Correspondent Charles J. Hanley in Copenhagen.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Find behind-the-scenes information, blog posts and discussion about the Copenhagen climate conference at http://www.facebook.com/theclimatepool, a Facebook page run by AP and an array of international news agencies. Follow coverage and blogging of the event on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/AP-ClimatePool.