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Now All This Deal Needs Is Some Fine Print...

The brief, three-page climate accord that came out of Copenhagen last December was, you'll recall, incredibly vague. There was some happy talk in the document about reducing emissions and sending aid to poorer countries, but few actual details. So, as Lisa Friedman reports in ClimateWire today, the task for lawyers and bureaucrats in the coming months will be to figure out what all those amorphous directives actually mean:

The first real test of the accord comes Jan. 31, the deadline for both rich and poor countries to submit their economywide emission targets to the United Nations. If that happens as planned, the United Nations will then need to realize another item on the Copenhagen Accord to-do list: a registry to record each country's action, and a body to provide "international consultations and analysis" that will ensure that China, India and other nations are living up to their climate commitments.

Then comes the question of money. Analysts said short-term funding in the accord announced to help poor countries cope with climate impacts is fairly straightforward. Developed nations promised $30 billion over three years, and at least for 2010, much of the money already has been allocated. ... More problematic is the $100 billion in midterm financing that leaders vowed to mobilize through 2020. ...

Where will the money—at least the U.S. portion—come from? How will it flow to other countries? Who decides the priorities? What role will controversial institutions like the World Bank have? All of those questions and others still need answers. A U.S. Treasury Department spokeswoman declined to discuss the funding, directing questions to the White House, which did not return calls.

Lots to figure out. And that's why it's probably too early to call Copenhagen a "failure"—a lot will depend on how these crucial details get resolved. That's why, as Friedman writes, "By late last week, U.S.-based climate policy advocates said they were feeling more optimistic about where the Copenhagen Accord could take countries, both in terms of lowered emissions and funding to help poor nations adapt to climate impacts."

Meanwhile, the other looming question is where these nitty-gritty decisions will actually get made. Initially, the vision for the global climate talks was that issues would get wrangled out in the big U.N. forums, with all 193 countries participating and everything getting approved by consensus. But Copenhagen sort of showed that that's an unwieldy way of getting anything done. A handful of small countries—Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua—were able to block the accord from getting formally adopted. So another possibility is that the countries with most of the world's pollution and trees and money (i.e., Japan, China, India, Brazil, the United States, the EU…) will start negotiating side deals in smaller forums like the G-20.

(Flickr photo credit: Robert vanWaarden)