Copenhagen Summary: Halfway Mark

At the halfway mark of the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, negotiators say they have made progress on some lesser issues, though agreement on emissions targets and funding is likely to come at the last minute, if at all.

A mechanism for transferring low-carbon technology, such as solar and wind power, is coming together, according to several reports.

Also, a $25 billion proposal is in the works for the preservation of tropical forests in 10, countries, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Friday.

However, that text has been significantly weakened, some environmental groups say. Mongabay reported Saturday the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) text has been stripped of its chief goal to reduce forest clearing by at least 50% by 2020. In addition, key safeguards to protect indigenous people and biodiversity and limit forest conversion to plantations have been moved from the operative section of the agreement to a non-binding preamble.

"It’s hardly surprising that developing countries won’t commit to global targets for deforestation when rich countries haven’t yet provided the necessary financing for REDD or global targets for deep reductions of industrial emissions," Nathaniel Dyer of Rainforest Foundation UK said in a statement.

An article on ScienceDaily points out that how the term "forest" is defined in a conservation deal, will have a huge effect on whether virgin forests are left standing or replaced with palm oil plantations. A group called Alternatives to Slash and Burn (ASB) argues that a porous definition in the REDD plan would allow palm oil plantations to be considered forests. 

Britain’s Climate Change Secretary Ed Milliband said the negotiations are moving too slowly and that environmental ministers must make quick progress, so that the majority of agreements are concluded before heads of state begin arriving on Wednesday and Thursday. 

“We’re now getting close to midnight in this negotiation and we need to act like it. That means more urgency to solve problems, not just identify them, more willingness to shift from entrenched positions and more ambitious commitments. We’re not yet on track for the kind of deal we need," he said. (Telegraph reporting)

Likewise, Australian Climate Change Minister Penny Wong told Reuters the circle of countries fighting climate change must be expanded. Her comment addresses the reality of the climate change fight, which is that emissions reduction goals are needed for the largest emerging countries, regardless of their small historic role in the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"This is one of those situations where we’re all in it," Wong said.

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke on the side of the conference on Saturday, stating that farmers worldwide should be rewarded for playing a role in reducing global emissions. Farming activities do not play a significant part in the current Kyoto Protocol. 

The US Department of Agriculture has been promoting the inclusion of incentives for farmers in future US climate change legislation. 

"It’s important for this conference not to separate the two," Vilsack said. "Food security and climate change are in my view linked and if you address one you address the other." (Reuters reporting)

And in Washington D.C., Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins released their bipartisan proposal on Friday for climate change legislation that would be simpler than a cap-and-trade system. 

The two senators are pushing what is being called a "cap and dividend" approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The bill focuses exclusively on producers and importers of fossil fuels, which would be required to buy permits for carbon emissions on a monthly basis. 

Revenue would be returned to consumers to offset higher energy costs, with 25% being set aside for the development of clean energy. 

The proposal is likely to split supporters of climate change legislation in, and outside, Congress. Read full coverage at the link below.

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