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As climate draft circulates, hard bargaining starts

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - After a week of U.N. climate talks, some money is finally on the table and a draft agreement has been circulated. Now, the really hard bargaining begins.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - After a week of U.N. climate talks, some money is finally on the table and a draft agreement has been circulated. Now, the really hard bargaining begins.

The draft proposal was sent around yesterday to the 192-nation conference, although it set no firm figures on financing or cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. And the negotiations on sharing the burden are likely to still go down to the wire and await the arrival of the world's leaders next week.

To top it off, the United States and China - the world's top two carbon polluters - even got into a battle of words.

"It's time to begin to focus on the big picture," said Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official. "The serious discussion on finance and targets has begun."

A much-disputed 188-page text was whittled down to a mere seven pages of stark options on how much global warming is acceptable and how deeply nations must individually and collectively cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Options ranged from nearly eliminating global emissions to cutting them in half by 2050.

The document forced countries to abandon long-held posturing on secondary topics and focus on crunch issues. Starting today, environment ministers will be able to go through the 46 points of text one by one, checking off some and leaving the toughest for the 110 heads of state and government arriving at the end of next week.

Many countries voiced reservations about the structure of the document or some of its clauses. "But that's all right," de Boer said. "That's what negotiations are all about."

Todd Stern, the special U.S. climate envoy, called the text "constructive" but singled out the section on helping poor countries lower their growth of carbon emissions as "unbalanced." He said the requirements on industrial countries were tougher than on developing nations and the section was not "a basis for negotiation."

Environmental groups welcomed the text as a step forward, although they lamented the absence of what they considered essential elements.

"It's a good pointer to a number of issues to be dealt with at the ministerial and even the head-of-state level over the next week," said Kim Carstensen of the World Wildlife Fund. "We're disappointed it does not include any clarity on what the legal outcome will be."

The text said that all countries together should reduce emissions by a range of 50 percent to 95 percent by 2050, and rich countries should cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020, in both cases using 1990 as the baseline year.

So far, industrial nations' pledges to cut emissions have amounted to far less than the minimum. President Obama has backed a 17 percent reduction in the United States, based on 2005 levels, the equivalent of a 3 or 4 percent cut in 1990 levels.

After years of being bogged down in detail, the draft highlighted the broad goals the world must achieve to avoid irreversible change in climate that scientists say could bring many species to extinction and cause upheavals in many parts of the world.

The draft agreement, drawn up by Michael Zammit Cutajar of Malta, said that global emissions of greenhouse gases should peak "as soon as possible," while avoiding a target year.

It called for new funding in the next three years by wealthy countries to help poor nations adapt to a changing climate, but mentioned no figures. And it made no specific proposals on long-term help for developing countries.

The funding is perhaps the hardest part.

As the draft was circulated, European Union leaders announced in Brussels, Belgium, after two days of tough talks that they would commit $3.6 billion a year until 2012 to a short-term fund for poor countries. Most of this money came from Britain, France, and Germany. Many cash-strapped former East bloc countries balked at donating, but eventually all gave at least a token amount to preserve the 27-nation bloc's unity.

Still unknown is how much the wealthier nations, such as the United States and Japan, will contribute.

Differences still remain between China and the United States.

Veteran China-watchers said that two countries were closer than they appeared. Some problems could be settled with some work on language, translation, or simply being more specific about actions each country should take, said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

China's public stance remained unyielding, and Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei took Stern to task for remarks Wednesday that no U.S. climate money would go to Beijing. In unusually blunt language, He said Stern either "lacks common sense" or was "extremely irresponsible."

In China's view, the United States and other rich nations have a heavy historical responsibility to cut emissions, and any climate deal should take into account a country's development level.

China, the world's largest polluter, is grouped with the developing nations at the talks. But Stern said the United States did not consider China one of the neediest countries when it comes to giving those nations financial aid.

In downtown Copenhagen, police detained 75 people in the first street protests linked to the conference. There were no reports of violence.