Image: Activists dressed as trees
Bob Strong  /  Reuters
Activists dressed as trees make a point about deforestation on Tuesday at the conference center where the U.N. climate talks are being held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/15/2009 2:40:13 PM ET 2009-12-15T19:40:13

As delegates worked long hours in search of a climate compromise by Thursday, the European Union on Tuesday added fuel to the diplomatic fire between China and the United States — saying that neither country's climate targets are aggressive enough.

"We expect them both to raise ambition level," EU environment spokesman Andreas Carlgren said of the U.S. and China. "Otherwise we won't be able to reach the 2 degree target."

The U.S., for one, signaled that would not be happening. It was, however, dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a State Department source said Tuesday. She is expected to arrive Thursday, a day before President Barack Obama.

Many scientists have warned that the commitments so far fall short of what is needed to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels and head off the worst of global warming.

The Obama administration has set as its target a 17 percent reduction from 2005 emissions levels by 2020. That amounts to a 3 percent to 4 percent cut from 1990 levels — the baseline year used by many other countries.

China has pledged to cut "carbon intensity" — a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production — by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels.

Since China's economy is expected to double in size in coming years, that pledge means China's emissions will still increase, but instead of doubling they'd be checked at a nearly 50 percent increase.

The European Union, on the other hand, has promised to reduce its emissions by at least 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 — and go up to 30 percent if others make comparable commitments. Japan and Russia have already promised 25 percent cuts.

U.N. chief: 'Stop pointing fingers
Since the start of talks last week, China and the United States — the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide — have been waging a war of words.

China accused the United States and other rich nations of backsliding on their commitments to fight global warming, and the top American envoy declared the U.S. would not change its offer on emissions cuts.

Climate ConnectionsTrying to ease the tensions, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said rich and poor countries must "stop pointing fingers" and should increase their pledges.

The U.S. delegation has its hands tied, however, since Congress has not passed legislation setting reductions.

U.S. special climate envoy Todd Stern defended the Obama administration's emissions-cutting target as "equal to or higher" than most of what the EU is proposing, and said the United States won't offer new numbers at the talks.

"I'm not anticipating any change in the mitigation commitment," he said. "Our commitment is tied to our anticipated legislation."

The House in June passed a bill with the 17 percent target. The Senate is discussing a similar bill, but it is not expected to come for a vote for several months.

Ban's warning in an interview with The Associated Press came as some world leaders began arriving in the Danish capital, kicking the two-week conference into high gear.

Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are among more than 110 world leaders expected in Copenhagen by week's end.

U.S. vs. China
China and other developing countries are resisting U.S.-led attempts to make their cuts in emissions growth binding, instead of voluntary, and open to international scrutiny.

China is grouped with developing nations at the talks, but the U.S. doesn't consider China to be in need of climate-change aid.

Video: Communication breakdown "You can't even begin to have an environmentally sound agreement without the adequate, significant participation of China," said Stern.

In Beijing, China accused developed countries Tuesday of trying to escape their obligations to help poor nations fight climate change. China believes the U.S. and other rich nations have a heavy historical responsibility to cut emissions, and that any climate deal should take into account a country's development level.

"We still maintain that developed countries have the obligation to provide financial support," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, adding that was "the key condition for the success of the Copenhagen conference."

The U.N. conference's working groups were finishing up two years of work and drawing up their final recommendations on such issues as deforestation, technology transfers and the registration of plans by developing countries to control their emissions.

Drafts on those issues showed some narrowing of gaps but left many disputes to be decided by environment ministers, which ultimately may go up to the heads of state.

"Ministers have to be very clear and focused over the next 48 hours if we are to make it," said conference president Connie Hedegaard of Denmark.

She hoped the tight deadline might add urgency to the talks and help break the deadlock.
"It's just like schoolchildren," she said. "If they have a very long deadline to deliver an exercise they will wait for the last moment ... it's basically as simple as that."

Talks on a global climate deal hit a snag Monday when developing countries walked away temporarily from the negotiations, fearing industrial countries were backpedaling in their promises to cut greenhouse gases.

The issues concern the details of a final treaty to be negotiated in the next six to 12 months and may not even be included in the political deal reached in Copenhagen.

India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said the talks could even break down on "serious" outstanding issues. "There is confusion and lack of clarity at this stage," he said. "There could be breakdown on many issues. We still don't have great clarity on how the next few days are going to evolve."

Greenhouse gas factorsOne thorny issue is how far developing nations should be bound to targets to slow their growth in emissions, a process known as measurement, reporting and verification (MRV).

"The MRV issue is a very serious divider," said Ramesh. The issue "might not sound that sexy but its still a very crucial part because that is where there are red lines to different parties," said Hedegaard.

Business leaders have said they want a clear deal with short and long-term targets so that they can invest appropriately.

"There are still lots of issues that will likely be discussed only at the ministerial level, and that gives us some cause for concern," said Abyd Karmali, global head of emissions trading at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Taking aim at global warming

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  1. Reporters, photographers and television crews gather around a TV monitor to listen as U.S. President Barack Obama address delegates at the final day of the UN Climate Change Conference on Friday, Dec. 18, in Copenhagen, Denmark. President Barack Obama plunged into an unscheduled meeting Friday with representatives of nearly 20 nations as world leaders, pressed for time, struggled to reach an agreement on how to curb heat-trapping gasses. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a plenary session at the Bella Center in Copenhagen on Friday. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A German climate activist cries as her hair is cut outside the venue of the Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark on Friday. (Jens Dresling / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Snow and ice are cleaned off a globe on Dec. 17 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The globe is part of an art exhibit set up as nations here seek an agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (Pawel Kopczynski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protestors with a group called Lobbyists for Profitable Climate Solutions, one holding fake dollar bills, another holding a sign reading "Stop Global Whining," heckle other demonstrators near the venue of the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen on Dec. 16. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Danish riot police push back protestors outside the venue of the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 16. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A demonstrator hit by pepper spray receives help outside the U.N. talks on Dec. 16. Hundreds of climate demonstrators marched to the summit venue to show their anger over the slow progress being made by nations towards a climate deal. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A police officer uses his baton on activists trying to get into the U.N. talks on Dec. 16. (Pawel Kopczynski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An activist shouts at police as he and others try to get into the U.N. talks in Copenhagen on Dec. 16. More than 200 people were arrested when they overran the police barricade to the summit conference hall. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A Danish riot policeman clubs an activist who climbed on top of a police vehicle outside the U.N. talks on Dec. 16. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An officer wipes his eyes after police used pepper spray against protesters on Dec. 16. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) activists plant hand-shaped signs with the words "Tackle climate change!" outside the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, on Dec. 16. (John Macdougall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Several hundred government delegates and environment ministers from around the world attend a plenary session on Dec. 16. The success of the U.N. climate conference is hanging in the balance as China and the U.S. deadlocked over whether Beijing will allow the world to check its books and verify promised cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Greepeace activists scale Australia's Sydney Opera House on Dec. 15 to make a climate statement urging nations to reach a treaty agreement. The activists were later arrested and charged with trespassing. (Dean Sewell / Greenpeace via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. In Copenhagen, Denmark, climate activists have held daily rallies, including this one on Dec. 15. Copenhagen is the host city for the U.N. Climate Change Conference. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Riot police clash with climate activists in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. Between Dec. 12 and 14, police arrested nearly 1,300 activists. (Yoan Valat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 14 check out a mock ark meant to symbolize the lack of a backup plan if nations fail to agree to a climate treaty. One consequence of runaway warming would be rising seas and widespread flooding. (Michael Reynolds / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Several hundred protesters march during a climate protest in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. (Anders Debel Hansen / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Climate activists shout slogans during a march in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks at a presentation Dec. 14 on melting Arctic ice at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A member of Greenpeace demonstrates during a 'Climate No Border' protest in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. The activist is dressed as 'Death', one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. People get ready before the start of a 'Climate No Borders' march together with several hundred protesters in Copenhagen. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Activists dressed as polar bears stage a protest at the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen. (Heribert Proepper / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A protester looks out from inside a police vehicle following her arrest in Copenhagen on Sunday, Dec. 13. Ministers from 48 countries met behind closed doors amid fresh protests a day after police arrested nearly 1,000 demonstrators. (Andreas Hillergren / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Archbishop Desmond Tutu gestures while speaking on stage during a "Time for Climate Justice" public event at Radhuspladsen in Copenhagen. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. With emissions from a local factory behind it, a take-off on the Statue of Liberty that was erected by climate activists stands tall on Dec. 12, near the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Climate activists taking part in a mass rally in Copenhagen on Dec. 12 hug a police officer standing guard. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Police in Copenhagen on Dec. 12 arrest some of the tens of thousands who marched downtown. (Dresling Jens / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. More than 600 people were detained as night fell in Copenhagen on Dec. 12. (Mads Nissen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A large globe featuring an interactive display sits in a central square in Copenhagen on Dec. 10. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. In New Delhi, India, activists on Dec. 10 prepare to release sky lanterns to express their hopes for the climate conference. (Manish Swarup / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A demonstrator taunts Danish riot police during a protest in Copenhagen on Dec. 11. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. This ice sculpture of a polar bear set up in Copenhagen had nearly melted by Dec. 10. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. This coal-fired power plant in Macedonia, seen on Dec. 10 as pigs feed on a nearby trash dump, is one of thousands around the world that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide. (Ognen Teofilovski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Delegates gather on Dec. 10 before a plenary session at the 12-day U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Activists dressed as aliens on Dec. 10 roam the halls where the U.N. climate summit is being held. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A woman walks past one of the dozens of exhibits at the climate summit on Dec. 10. (Axel Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Thick smoke from a coal-fired oven fills the air in this neighborhood of Calcutta, India, on Dec. 9. Coal burning is a key source of manmade carbon dioxide emissions. (Parth Sanyal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Climate activists throw lifesize inflatable dolls into the reflecting pool on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 9. Wearing t-shirts that say "CO2 Kills," the dolls are supposed to represent people who die from climate-related illness. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. This balloon with a message sits near Copenhagen’s City Hall on Dec. 9. (Axel Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Iceberg B17B, top left, floats in the Ross Sea near Antarctica after it broke off from the Ross Ice Shelf nearly 10 years ago. The monster iceberg, at 12 miles long and 5 miles wide nearly twice the size of Hong Kong, has been slowly drifting toward Australia in what scientists call a once-in-a-century event. It is now about 1,100 miles southwest of Australia. Accelerated glacial and ice shelf melt and collapses have been tied to global warming. (Australian Antarctic Division / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, speaks at a news conference at the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen on Dec. 9. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Climate change conference participants walk in front of a display of pictures on Dec. 9 in the Bella Center in Copenhagen, the venue of the 12-day meeting. Negotiators at the U.N.-organized marathon sought to calm emotions after developing countries blasted an early draft proposal that they said favored rich carbon emitters and sidelined the poor. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A man walks through heaps of ash outside a thermal power plant in the village of Doburjian in the northern Indian state of Punjab on Dec. 9. A 20 percent cut in greenhouse gases by rich nations would be a "pretty good" result for a U.N. climate summit, even though it falls short of developing nations' hopes, the head of the U.N. climate panel said during the meeting’s opening days. (Ajay Verma / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Members of environmental activist group Greenpeace unfurl a banner from Rome's Colosseum on Dec. 9. (Tony Gentile / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Emissions-producing diesel trucks and cars pass non-polluting windmills that stand along the I-10 freeway near Banning, Calif., on Dec. 8. Sustained global warming shows no sign of letting up, according to a new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization and made public at the climate talks in Copenhagen. Although global temperature fluctuates from year to year, overall the decade of the 2000s is likely the warmest in the last 150 years covered by the report. This decade is warmer than the 1990s which were warmer than the 1980s, and so on. The conclusions are in line with independent analysis by the National Climatic Data Center and NASA. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Delegates answer journalists' questions in front of the Bella Center in Copenhagen on the second day of the U.N. climate conference on Dec. 8. Talks hit turbulence on their second day, as developing countries, green groups and activists attacked an early draft of a compromise deal proposed by Denmark, the conference chair. The leaked document – dated Nov. 27 – was criticized as a backroom deal that favored rich countries on the key issues of emissions curbs and financing. (Jens Nørgaard Larsen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. An activist outside the climate summit in Copenhagen on Dec. 8 makes a point about Europe not retreating from its aggressive targets for CO2 emissions reductions. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Mankind's reliance on fossil fuels, including these commuters in Taipei, Taiwan, on Dec. 7, is tied to the sharp increase in CO2 since the start of the industrial age. (Nicky Loh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Global actions to lobby for curbing greenhouse gas emissions include this rally by children, some dressed as trees, in Sidon, Lebanon, on Dec. 8. (Str / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. This globe is part of the "Cool Globes" art installation on display in Copenhagen during the climate talks. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. This furnace is part of a steel plant in Kazakhstan. The 1960s-era factory is Central Asia's biggest steel producer -- and one of its biggest emitters of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. (Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Commuters walk beneath a "Hopenhagen" banner in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. The climate summit is not expected to live up to original expecations of a global climate treaty with mandatory emissions reductions. That is now being talked about as a 2010 goal. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. In London, England, activists camped out in Trafalgar Square over the weekend of Dec. 5 after taking part in a mass march through the city. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Power stations like this one in Hadera, Israel, have been a part of economc development but they are also key sources of CO2. (Yehuda Raizner / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. People watch an illuminated "CO2" cube in the water of St. Jorgens Lake in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. The cube represents the amount of carbon dioxide produced by an average person in one month. (Pawel Kopczynski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. Workers cut down trees as part of a road extension project in the southern Indian city of Chennai on Dec. 7. Officials at the climate talks in Copenhagen warned of the dangers of desertification and rising seas. (Babu / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Sculptures are illuminated as they stand in water outside the climate conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Demonstrators block the entrance of Chevron Corp. in San Ramon, Calif., on Dec. 7 to coincide with the climate talks. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Journalists at work Dec. 7 at the climate conference in Copenhagen. Some 100 world leaders are expected to gather at the historic meeting on Dec. 18. (Keld Navntoft / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. The U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, left, and John Ash, chairman of a key summit committee, listen to a reporter's question at a press conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 6. De Boer held out hope for concrete action to curb emissions, but few expect a new treaty to replace the existing 1997 Kyoto pact. (Larsen Claus Bjørn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. Garbage is scattered across a ship repair yard in Mumbai, India, on Dec. 3. Rising seas is one issue before the climate conference in Copenhagen. (Arko Datta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. A cyclist stops to look at one of the "Cool Globes" in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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