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U.S. says it could help raise $100 billion to fight climate change

Reporting from Copenhagen – Overnight gloom at international climate negotiations here has given way to cautious afternoon optimism, with delegates and observers expressing hope today that world leaders are moving toward clearing several key roadblocks to a new agreement to limit greenhouse gases.

Two moves revived the talks, which appeared this morning to be dangerously close to flat-lining.

The Obama administration announced that it would join allies in raising $100 billion by 2020 to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change, a number that stunned many environmentalists with its size — and which appears to meet the top demand of China, whose stalemate with the United States had bogged down the negotiations.

In response, China signaled it was moving toward satisfying the top American demand: that developing nations such as China and India will limit their greenhouse gas emissions as their economies grow, and that those limits must be subject to some form of outside verification.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters in a news conference that China is open to “dialogue and cooperation that is not intrusive, that does not infringe on China’s sovereignty” — a major linguistic departure from the country’s staunch opposition to transparency measures throughout the talks so far.

Nonprofit groups working closely with all sides said it appeared negotiators, while still facing a marathon of work today and Friday, were moving toward compromise on the central issues of transparency, money and emissions limits.

“We’re better than 50-50” to get a deal, said Ned Helme, a climate negotiations veteran and president of the Center for Clean Air Policy. “The shape of the deal is clear. You’ve got the three pieces in play.”

Upping the stakes and the seriousness of the talks, heads of state were streaming into the host Bella Center today. One by one, they took the microphone to exhort the summit to action.

“We must start to negotiate right now,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy told fellow leaders, calling for heads of state to return after dinner and commence an intensive bargaining session.

Behind the scenes, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat down with leaders of several nations, including China, for bilateral talks.

Clinton announced the long-term aid package in a morning news conference. She said the unspecified American share of the $100 billion would come from public and private sources, would fund measures such as protecting carbon-heavy forests from logging and would be contingent upon nations reaching a broad agreement here that would lay the groundwork for a new treaty to combat global warming.

She made clear that the offer would expire at the end of the summit if no deal is reached, and that any agreement would need to include a way for the world to verify that developing nations make good on their emissions pledges.

“If there is not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that’s kind of a deal-breaker for us,” Clinton said.

The announcement came after Chinese officials warned other nations during overnight talks that China was doubtful that any broad agreement could be reached in Copenhagen, according to multiple sources close to the Chinese delegation.

Clinton’s announcement appeared to reverse that thinking for the Chinese.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, called it “truly a bombshell.”

Andrew Deutz, director of international government relations for the Nature Conservancy, called it “a huge step forward toward common ground” and “the type of high-level political offer that we’ve been looking for world leaders to bring to Copenhagen to reach a global deal.”

More strident groups said the money fell short.

“Climate change is already killing people in Africa, and this commitment is simply insufficient to tackle the climate crisis,” Mithika Mwenda, coordinator of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a news release.

Government officials and observers involved with the talks said in recent days that a major U.S. funding announcement could trigger a chain reaction leading to a broad agreement.

The long-term money offer, those sources said, could win over African and island-nation delegates who have long complained that wealthy nations are not offering deep enough reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

These delegates could then pressure China and India to compromise with the United States on transparency provisions, thereby clearing the two largest hurdles to an accord.

All sides in the negotiations acknowledge that time is running short, with heads of state beginning to arrive en masse today. President Obama lands here early Friday, the day the conference is scheduled to end.

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