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Waiting for Obama

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In theory, Copenhagen's Bella Center should seem like the epicenter of history. In reality, it's more like being in a big room full of people playing the game of telephone by circulating bits of information, misinformation, and gossip. There were huge protests outside today, as a result of which access to the building was shut down for an extended period, but I only knew this from emails I got from people out in the streets. The UN revoked the credentials of Friends of the Earth and Avaaz, apparently because some members of those delegations were known to be planning civil disobedience inside the conference once the heads of state arrived.

Some new and intriguing proposals have been put on the table, though. One, from France and Ethiopia, includes some interesting ideas for solving the long-term problem of financing climate-change costs in poor countries.  The two countries, an unlikely duo:

believe that various innovative financing mechanisms are key to ensure the predictability and sustainability of international public efforts. They call, in particular, for the creation of a tax on international financial transactions and consider other sources such as taxes on sea freight or air transport. Those mechanisms will mainly be dedicated to actions in poor and vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa, least developed countries, small island states and other developing countries with a low per-capita income ....

Meanwhile George Soros has come forward with his own proposal, which would rely heavily on the International Monetary Fund:

"I propose that the developed countries -- in addition to establishing a fast start fund of $10 billion a year -- should band together and lend $100 billion dollars worth of these SDRs for 25 years to a special green fund serving the developing world. The fund would jump-start forestry, land-use, and agricultural projects. These are the areas that offer the greatest scope for reducing carbon emissions and could produce substantial returns from carbon markets. The returns such projects can generate go beyond reducing carbon; there will be non-carbon related returns from land use projects, the potential to create more sustainable rural livelihoods, enable higher and more resilient agriculture yields and create rural employment."

So, yes,  there are ideas on the table.

What's missing is any comparable financing proposal from the U.S. -- and having such a concept emerge is probably the key to making it sufficiently attractive to the Third World for any deal to emerge from this maelstrom. (Yes, I know the original maelstrom was off Norway, not Denmark, but you can only do so much with Hamlet's castle and Tivoli Gardens.) Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has already arrived here and will probably get an earful tomorrow when she meets with various other governments about their unhappiness that the U.S. has not been more forthcoming about how it proposes to solve the long-term financing problem.

It appears that the barrier is a deadlock within the Obama administration about which mechanisms might be acceptable -- and breaking such deadlocks is precisely why it's so important that President Obama come here and change the ground rules of a process that currently seems mired in distrust and a lack of generosity. So although the negotiations continue, there is a strong sense that the real opportunity will open when the American president arrives.

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