With the looming deadline and immense pressure, cracks are beginning to show: The Guardian is reporting that European Union negotiators are clashing with their American counterparts, and it could lead to a rift that won’t be mended before Copenhagen. Europe has been pushing to retain structures and systems set up under the Kyoto Protocol in any international climate agreement, but US negotiators have told Europe an counterparts that the Obama administration intends to sweep away almost all of the Kyoto architecture and replace it with a system of its own design.

Unlike his predecessor, the Obama administration is engaging on climate change, so EU stakeholders don’t wish to criticize. But they worry that starting from scratch could take years, and delay meaningful climate action until 2015 or later. And therein lies the rub. According to the best science available now, emissions must peak by 2015 — or 2020 at the latest — or several dangerous tipping points could be broached that could create millions of climate refugees, and huge uncertainty.

The US is suggesting that each country be allowed to write its own set of rules, and be allowed to meet its emissions targets in whatever way it deems best. Such a requirement makes sense for the US, which needs to get an international climate bill through the Senate with a two-thirds majority. But EU sources told The Guardian that this provision will scuttle any hope of meaningful progress at Copenhagen, and create loopholes that many countries will exploit to avoid responsibility for their emissions in the decades to come.

But others, including former Kyoto negotiators for the US government, don’t see the problem. As the world’s largest historical contributor to global warming, the US must be a key player in creating a solution.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu suggested that a new dynamic was at work, telling people not to have high expectations for Copenhagen. “You have to bring more people along,” he said, “So don’t tee it up as now or never.” (Source: The Guardian, Yale 360, September 15-16, 2009).

Contact: Yvo de Boer, Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, +49 (228) 815-1000, secretariat@unfccc.int, www.unfccc.int; Todd Stern, Special Envoy on Climate Change, US State Department, (202) 647-6252, www.state.gov.