03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Tivoli Rollercoaster

My equilibrium's shaky, and it's not from Denmark's most famous roller coaster. I go from cheerful-looking billboards at the airport (the best are Oceana's on ocean acidification; the least-plausible are Coca-Cola's "Hopenhagen" series) to the reality of a climate summit that's poorly framed, inadequately ambitious, and riven by distrust.

Even so, I continue to be reasonably certain that the U.S. and India, among the major players, are going to do far more to save the climate than they are willing to commit to. And over the course of the past several days, it's become evident that China might be in the same camp.

But two enormous issues continue to plague this effort -- and neither has to do with climate. The first is the Third World's demand that the rich nations finally admit that they haven't earned all of their economic advantage -- that  part of it is the result of theft from the global commons -- and the stiff-necked unwillingness of the industrial world to make that concession. This is at the heart of the inability of the conference, thus far, to agree on how to monitor and measure commitments made by various nations. The Chinese, and perhaps others, feel that to agree to global monitoring of equal integrity between themselves and, say, the U.S., is to concede moral parity -- and that they will not do.

The second issue is how to finance (at what is actually a very modest sub-AIG level) a clean energy and climate response in the Third World. The finance ministries of the rich nations are having a hard time accepting that they can't have it both ways. If they cannot get their congresses and parliaments to agree to tax their own citizens to compensate for their extravagant use of the common carbon sinks, then some kind of global-finance system to which everyone contributes, but which the rich do not control, is the only alternative. "He who pays the piper calls the tune" has a certain rough realism to it. But "he who used to pay the piper" cannot expect to call the tune for very long.

This all deserves more thought than my somewhat jet-lagged brain can give it. But these two issues -- transparency and finance -- are the biggest whitewater holes on the fast-moving river running out of Copenhagen tonight.