COPENHAGEN - With global climate change talks veering off and precariously back on the tracks, the U.S. offered unspecified sums as part of a $100 billion fund in 2020 to aid developing nations cope with the costs of lowering carbon-based pollution and deforestation.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the $100 billion gambit meant to re-energize pursuit of a global agreement - probably only minimally binding - to reduce greenhouse gases so as to keep the planet's temperature from rising by any more than 2 degrees centigrade by 2020.
Clinton said there were strings tied to U.S. aid and leaned on China to offer more in pollution curbs and more transparency for the world to measure its carbon-reduction efforts. Without greater transparency, Clinton warned, the $100 billion offer would evaporate.
"I have often quoted a Chinese proverb which says that when you are in a common boat, you have to cross the river peacefully together," Clinton said. "Well, we are in a common boat. All of the major economies have an obligation to commit to meaningful mitigation actions and stand behind them in a transparent way."
Rumors circulated here that President Obama might cancel his scheduled arrival tomorrow for the climate conference's final day. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, still in Washington with Obama, told Fox there is "no change in our plans."
About the purpose of Obama's journey here, Gibbs said: "We're not going there just to get an agreement for the sake of something that's called an agreement. We want something that works for both the international community but also something that works for the United States."
China may abandon the remaining talks, undermining prospects for any credible international greenhouse gas deal.
"We hope the Chinese will stay and be part of finding a solution," Gibbs said. "If the Chinese are unwilling to be able to prove to the world that they can live up to an agreement that they make, then I think it calls into question whether or not you truly have an agreement. The elements of getting an agreement are there if countries like China will make some common sense agreements about transparency."
Asked if Obama feared returning to the US "empty-handed," Gibbs said: "coming back with an empty agreement would be far worse than coming back empty handed."
Clinton said the US offer on the $100 billion fund "should leave no doubt about" America's willingness to strike a deal here. Clinton said the fund, which is smaller than the U.N. says is necessary to mitigate the costs of pollution control in the developing world, will provide "a significant focus on forestry and adaptation, particularly, again I repeat, for the poorest and most vulnerable among us."
The head of the U.N. climate talks here, Yvo De Boer, said he was encouraged by Clinton's offer but remained skeptical about the sources of the funds -- what is the ratio of public and private funds, for example - and how much the US would contribute.
"I'm looking keenly forward to hearing what the US contribution will be to that sum is going to be" De Boer said.
De Boer also said reports of the talks' collapse were premature. More than 130 heads of state are due here today and new drafts of a communiqué or so-called political agreement have been developed on a loose political agreement to pursue emissions reductions.
"I would say hold tight and mind the doors, the cable car is moving again," De Boer said. "Two contact groups will be established, that's our speak for working groups. They will seek to address the outstanding political issues that need to be resolved. We have now have clarity on the process."
The process has been restarted, but it's ultimate conclusion remains in doubt. Delegates and top officials now speak openly of a binding agreement having to wait until the next climate change conference in Mexico in 2010.
Urging a deal now, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said history was calling for courage to spare the planet further carbon-based degradation.
"There are turning points when history is expected to turn, but fails to turn," Brown said at a ceremony here awarding Mexican President Felipe Calderon for his environmental efforts. "I want this conference to be a turning point where history does turn. We can, by working together over the 48 hours, reach an agreement that are worthy of your organization and also an agreement that will help planet move forward for generations to come."
The $100 billion anti-pollution fund sounded bigger than it may turn out to be. The U.S. had already committed to providing its "fair share" to a similar $10 billion fund set to begin next year and run through 2012. That pledge carried greater weight because it was linked to Obama's term in office and had a funding stream provided for in the House-passed cap-and-trade bill. The 2020 allotments are unknown on the U.S. side and would have to be carried out by Obama's successor - a sizable variable to say the least.
De Boer spoke to other unknowns.
"The discussion now has to take place with the other parties whether they feel that sum is adequate," De Boer said, referring to the $100 billion. "The secretary also indicated that sum will come from a variety of sources. You know there's been much discussion here on how money is overseen, how we can be sure the parties to this convention are really in control of the financial resources that are at their disposal."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democratically controlled Congress was "fully prepared" to back up Clinton's commitment to the $100 billion development fund in 2020. Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., told delegates here the Senate would pass its version of climate change legislation as early as spring of 2010.
But Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, told reporters here today "there are maybe 25 votes in the Senate for cap and trade. You need 60. John Kerry misled the people. He said something binding would happen by April 22. That is not going to happen. Wait and see if I am right or John Kerry. "