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Copenhagen's climate change battle

Gavin Hewitt | 19:14 UK time, Friday, 30 October 2009

merkel_sarkozy_595.jpgOn Thursday night over dinner in Brussels there was a deep rift between the European leaders on how to pay for fighting climate change. There were long faces.

Early in the morning, over breakfast, I detected enormous frustration among some European leaders. "We must show leadership," said one. The irritation stemmed from the firmly held belief here that Europe has led the way in demanding binding targets.

So Europe had to set an example for the Chinese and the Americans, said a senior official, and that meant putting figures on the table. Some colleagues, said the same official, are already anticipating failure over Copenhagen.

Overnight the lawyers and those with specialised knowledge of climate issues toiled away and early today Gordon Brown claimed a breakthrough. He had been one of those most insistent at the dinner that to carry conviction you had to deal in numbers. The British Prime Minister thought European leaders had the makings of an excellent deal.

After 2020 the world would have to find 100 billion euros a year to help the poorer countries fight climate change. Between 15 and 40bn euros would have to come from global taxpayers. That figure was certainly vaguer than the British had wanted. Britain would have to contribute about a billion pounds a year. And what excited Gordon
Brown's team was a new commitment to fast-track some of this funding immediately.

But the key to these figures was that they were conditional on other countries chipping in with funding and for the developing world agreeing to cut their emissions.

As the morning wore on it was apparent that the "breakthrough" was less than had been stated.

Firstly, some countries - particularly Germany - did not want to set out what Europe would end up paying. They wanted to see what others were prepared to contribute. Secondly, Poland and other Eastern European countries objected to helping countries like Brazil which they considered wealthier. They also resisted any contribution being assessed on the basis of their emissions as opposed to their GDP. In the end they agreed to support Europe putting some figures on the table but the question of how much they would pay was referred to a committee.

It is an indication of just how hard it will be to get a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen.

The consensus here was that agreeing some figures was a step forward. Many felt that the failure to state what Europe would pay was a missed opportunity. However some said that it would put pressure on the Americans to say what they would contribute. For as the senior European official said this morning "we have to create momentum".

At a time when there are such misgivings about what Copenhagen might achieve, any momentum may be judged a success.

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