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Hopes rise for climate talks as rich countries ante up

Port of Spain — Hopes suddenly rose over the weekend that a new global climate pact was within reach after rich nations attending a Commonwealth summit here offered to pay poorer countries to help seal the deal.

"Success in Copenhagen is in sight," UN chief Ban Ki-moon stated, referring to the climate negotiations to take place in the Danish capital December 7-18.

He and Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, both making exceptional appearances at the Trinidad summit despite not being Commonwealth members, stressed how encouraged they were by Britain and France offering to start a 10-billion-dollar fund for developing nations.

By showing willingness to meet "the need for money on the table," it was now "realistic" to expect Copenhagen to result in the framework for a treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012, Rasmussen said.

"Copenhagen will not be a talk shop," Ban said. "We will come out with a very concrete foundation for a legally binding treaty."

The sudden optimism contrasted sharply with predictions of failure at the climate talks as recently as two weeks ago.

Much of that stemmed from a joint overture by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Commonwealth gathering, whose leaders represent two billion people, or a third of the planet’s population.

The two European leaders proposed to compensate developing countries for the economic disadvantages they would face in cutting carbon emissions.

Britain said it had already set aside 1.3 billion dollars to be paid into the Copenhagen Launch Fund over the next three years.

"Poorer countries must have an understanding that the richer countries will help them adapt to climate change and make the necessary adjustments in their economies," Brown said on his website.

"We have got to provide some money to help that. Britain will do so, the rest of Europe will do so and I believe America will do so as well."

Sarkozy, who was also specially invited by Brown to address the Commonwealth summit, did not say how much France would contribute.

But he told reporters the fund would operate for the next three years, beyond which an "ambitious mechanism" for continued payments would be established.

The willingness of developed countries to ante up bolstered other moves that suggested nations were determined to reach an accord.

Important among those were carbon cut pledges by almost all the nations most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.

China, the world’s biggest polluter, has vowed to reduce "carbon intensity" as measured by unit of gross domestic product by 40-45 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels.

The United States, the other major contributor to global warming, is looking at curbing carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

The European Union is unilaterally cutting emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, and is offering to go to 30 percent if other industrialised parties follow suit.

Brazil, the fourth-biggest greenhouse gas contributor because of deforestation, has offered a reduction of 36-39 percent based on its projected economic output in 2020.

Alone of the big polluting nations, India has not revealed any emission cut targets.

But after meeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Trinidad, Sarkozy said that he was confident "they will put some figures on the table" within days.

Rasmussen said more than 85 heads of state and government had accepted invitations to attend the Copenhagen conference, effectively turning it into a big summit.

Among those who have publicly said they are going are US President Barack Obama, Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Sarkozy, however, criticized Obama’s decision to turn up for just one day at the beginning of the negotiations, on December 9, instead of the crucial final days of summit when all the other leaders would be crunching figures and concessions.

He added that, if an agreement eluded Copenhagen, "it will be a historic failure."