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Friday, December 18, 2009

Climate deal announced in Copenhagen, but falls short of expectations. Obama bursts into uninvited meeting between China, Brazil, India

Climate deal announced, but falls short of expectations

by Helene Cooper and John M. Broder, New York Times, December 18, 2009

COPENHAGEN — Leaders here concluded a climate change deal on Friday that the Obama administration called “meaningful” but that falls short of even the modest expectations for the summit meeting here.
Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama made statements following a meeting with Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, and other world leaders at the climate summit.
President Obama made statements following a meeting with Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, and other world leaders at the climate summit. Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama with Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, across from him, the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, right, and other world leaders at the Copenhagen climate summit on Friday. Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama stepped off Air Force One Friday morning in Denmark to address the Copenhagen climate summit. Doug Mills/The New York Times
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain during the World Climate Conference in Copenhagen on Thursday. Pool photograph by Peter Macdiarmid

The agreement still needs to be approved by the 193 nations gathered here.

The accord addresses many of the issues that leaders came here to settle — and if signed, will represent an unprecedented effort by the nations of the world to take concerted steps to address global warming.

But the agreement appeared to leave many of the participants unhappy.

Even an Obama administration official conceded, “It is not sufficient to combat the threat of climate change, but it’s an important first step.”

“No country is entirely satisfied with each element,” the administration’s statement said, “but this is a meaningful and historic step forward and a foundation from which to make further progress.”

The statement added, “We thank the emerging economies for their voluntary actions and especially appreciate the work and leadership of the Europeans in this effort.”

But many of those emerging economies are likely to express displeasure. Europeans said the deal does not require enough of the United States, China and other major emitters and could put European industries at a competitive disadvantage because the European Union is already subject to a carbon emissions constraint program.

The accord drops the expected goal of concluding a binding international treaty by the end of 2010, which leaves the implementation of its provisions uncertain. It is likely to undergo many months, perhaps years, of additional negotiation before it emerges in any internationally enforceable form.

“We entered this negotiation at a time when there were significant differences between countries,” the American official said.

“Developed and developing countries have now agreed to listing their national actions and commitments, a finance mechanism, to set a mitigation target of two degrees Celsius and to provide information on the implementation of their actions through national communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines,” the official said.

The deal came after a dramatic moment in which Mr. Obama burst into a meeting of the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian leaders, according to senior administration officials. Chinese protocol officers protested, and Mr. Obama said he did not want them negotiating in secret.

The intrusion led to new talks that cemented key terms of the deal, American officials said.

Sergio Serra, Brazil’s senior climate negotiator here, confirmed that Mr. Obama had “joined” a meeting of Brazilian, Indian, Chinese and other officials, although he did not say that Mr. Obama walked in uninvited.

“After several discussions had taken place they were joined by President Barack Obama,” Mr. Serra said. “Several important decisions were taken — not a few due to Brazilian mediation — that we hope will bring a result, if not what we expected, that may be a way of salvaging something and pave the way to another meeting or series of meetings to get the full result of this proceeding.”

President Obama announced that an agreement had been reached but he left Copenhagen before the assembled 193 nations could study or vote on the accord. Aides said he left to get to Washington ahead of a major snowstorm headed toward the capital.

The agreement apparently grew out of a document that was being edited by high-ranking officials from some two dozen countries throughout the day. But many specifics that were included in earlier versions were excised in the document left on the table when Mr. Obama made his announcement, and many parties considered it at best a work in progress.

The agreement contains several enumerated points asserting a general commitment to the idea that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time” and that “deep cuts” in global emissions are required.

In at least one earlier version, the agreement included a collective agreement among nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 — with developed nations pledging as a bloc to reduce emissions by 80% over the same time period.

Those numbers were no longer present in the version circulated after Mr. Obama’s announcement.

Also dropped from earlier drafts was language calling for a binding accord “as soon as possible,” and no later than at the next meeting of the parties, in Mexico City in November 2010. The deal presented Friday evening said only that the agreement should be reviewed and put in place by 2015.

The document does lay out a framework for verification of emissions commitments by developing countries and to establish a “high-level panel” to assess financial contributions by rich nations to help poor countries adapt to climate change and limit their emissions.

Many of the specifics remained to be negotiated, however.

In a press conference following the announcement, Mr. Obama thanked other world leaders for their help in reaching the accord — which he nonetheless characterized as being only a start.

“This progress did not come easily,” he said, “and we know that this progress alone is not enough.”

Mr. Obama noted that the United States would not be legally bound by anything agreed to in Copenhagen on Friday, and that, due to weather in Washington, he was leaving ahead of a full vote on the agreement.

But, he added, “I’m confident we’re moving in the direction of final accord.”

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of the Senate’s climate change bill, said the accord will drive Congress to pass climate change legislation early next year.

“This can be a catalyzing moment,” he said. “President Obama’s hands-on engagement broke through the bickering and sets the stage for a final deal and for Senate passage this spring of major legislation at home.”

Even those environmental groups that have pushed hardest for a deal had to acknowledge that this one is lacking in serious ways.

“The world’s nations have come together and concluded a historic — if incomplete — agreement to begin tackling global warming,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. “Tonight’s announcement is but a first step and much work remains to be done in the days and months ahead in order to seal a final international climate deal that is fair, binding, and ambitious. It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible.”

The announcement came on a day filled with high brinksmanship and seesawing expectations. On Friday morning, President Obama, speaking to world leaders gathered here at the frenzied end of the two weeks of climate talks, urged them to come to an agreement — no matter how imperfect — to address global warming and monitor whether countries are in compliance with promised emissions cuts.

His remarks appeared to be a pointed reference to China’s resistance on the issue of monitoring, which has proved a stubborn obstacle at the talks and a source of tension between China and the United States, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

After delivering the speech to a plenary session of 119 world leaders, Mr. Obama met privately with China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, in an hourlong session that a White House official described as “constructive.”

But Mr. Wen did not attend two smaller, impromptu meetings that Mr. Obama and United States officials conducted with the leaders of other world powers, an apparent snub that infuriated administration officials and their European counterparts and added more uncertainty to the proceedings.

Earlier in the day, in his address to the plenary session shortly after noon, Mr. Obama, clearly frustrated by the absence of an agreement, was both emphatic and at times impatient. “The time for talk is over,” he said.

He arrived here prepared to lend his political muscle to secure an agreement on climate change at negotiations that have been plagued by distrust over a range of issues, including how nations would hold each other accountable.

Within an hour of Air Force One’s touchdown in Copenhagen on Friday morning, Mr. Obama went into an unscheduled meeting with a high-level group of leaders representing some 20 countries and organizations. Mr. Wen did not attend that meeting, instead sending the vice foreign minister, He Yafei.

Negotiators here had worked through the night, charged with delivering a draft of the political agreement by 8 a.m. ahead of the arrival of dozens of heads of state and high-level ministers for the final stretch of deliberations.

An American negotiator, weary from a night of discussions, expressed confidence early Friday that the talks would produce some form of an agreed declaration, even if it lacked specifics on some of the toughest issues.

Mr. Obama injected himself into a multilayered negotiation that has been far more chaotic and contentious than anticipated — frozen by longstanding divisions between rich and poor nations and a legacy of mistrust of the United States, which has long refused to accept any binding limits on its greenhouse gas emissions.

The administration provided the talks with a palpable boost on Thursday when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared that the United States would contribute its share to $100 billion a year in long-term financing to help poor nations adapt to climate change.

Mrs. Clinton’s offer came with two significant conditions. First, the 193 nations involved in the talks here must reach a comprehensive political agreement that takes effect immediately. Second, and more critically, all nations must agree to some form of verification — she repeatedly used the term “transparency” — to ensure they are meeting their environmental promises.

China has brought the talks to a virtual standstill all week over this issue, which its leaders claim to be an affront to national sovereignty.

But the Chinese resistance on the issue is matched in large measure by Mr. Obama’s own constraints. The Senate has not yet acted on a climate bill that the president needs to make good on his promises of emissions reductions and on the financial support that he has now promised the rest of the world.

Late Friday night, speaking to reporters at the Bella Center before leaving for the airport, Mr. Obama, looking exhausted and with bloodshot eyes, said that problems long in the making had to be surmounted before a stronger deal can be reached.

“Let’s build some trust between developing and developed countries to break some of the logjams,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Elisabeth Rosenthal, Tom Zeller Jr. and Andrew C. Revkin from Copenhagen, and Liz Robbins from New York.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Expect GHG levels to accelerate.