Official: Verifying China's emissions a key issue at 'bumpy' Copenhagen talks

A senior administration official told reporters this afternoon that the oft-repeated White House call for transparency is “pretty synonymous” with verification that involves international consultation under a climate accord.

The official said the U.S. wants an agreement at the talks that provides an “adequate sense of clarity about what other countries are doing and them having adequate clarity about what we are doing.” China and the U.S. are the world’s two most prolific greenhouse gas emitters.

“What we are looking for is for China and other developing countries to enter into a regime or system of transparency and verification, whichever word you want to choose, that would allow us to get a good sense of what their implementation is,” the official said.

The official said there are ongoing, “intensive” and “constructive” conversations, and that the U.S. is “hopeful” about an agreement, but hardly guaranteed it.

“As to what their overall posture is, I think we will have to see,” the official said. “I think they want to get a deal but we will have to see how things go.”

Obama’s bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November yielded a similar pledge of transparency. “This is about giving meaning and substance to those provisions they have already agreed to,” a second senior administration official said.

India subsequently pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 20-25 percent by 2020.

The verification question is one of several roiling the talks, which are scheduled to culminate Friday with the participation of Obama and scores of other world leaders.

The first official said the largest ongoing difference is whether the new accord that negotiators are crafting will allow the existing Kyoto Protocol to continue beyond 2012, which developing nations prefer, or whether the hoped-for agreement will phase out Kyoto. The U.S. is not a party to the Kyoto accords.

Overall, the official called negotiations in Copenhagen “pretty bumpy” thus far, but added that’s often the norm in complex negotiations before they come together.