Postpones trip home to hammer out 'meaningful agreement'
Obama: 'Progress did not come easily, this alone is not enough.'...
By Desi Doyen on 12/18/2009, 1:09pm PT  


Guest blogged by Desi Doyen

As we noted in yesterday's Green News Report, President Obama is in Copenhagen today at the U.N. climate summit, in an attempt to broker a deal at the historic conference which has been stalled in efforts to reach an international agreement on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

It appears his efforts have paid off: MSNBC is reporting that a U.S. official says Obama has brokered a "meaningful agreement" agreement with China, India, and South Africa to move the talks forward.

The talks have been deadlocked over emissions targets, and how reductions will be verified, with China balking at allowing international audits of progress. Obama was originally scheduled to return to the U.S. today after his speech, but canceled his trip in order to enter into intensive high-level negotiations with other world leaders.


UPDATE 1:49pm PT: The New York Times has obtained a statement from a U.S. official, calling the current agreement insufficient to combat the projected effects of climate change, but "an important first step" [typos in original]:

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 communicatios, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines.

No country is entirely satisfied with each element but this is a meaningful and historic step forward and a foundation from which to make further progress.

UPDATE @ 2:10pm PT: AP: U.S., others broker climate deal at U.N. summit; Plan includes way to verify reduction in global warming emissions

UPDATE @ 2:36pm PT: President Obama spoke at a press conference before leaving Copenhagen on Friday night. He acknowledged that agreement is not legally binding and further negotiations will be required in 2010. The Washington Post has a copy of the draft agreement, called The Copenhagen Accord [.pdf].

UPDATE @ 2:46pm PT: The President has left the building ... and Copenhagen. After the press conference, the President boarded Air Force One and is on the way back to Washington, D.C. in advance of a severe winter storm projected to dump up to two feet of snow on the nation's capitol.

In broad strokes: while expectations had been scaled back prior to the conference, the accord reached tonight in Copenhagen drops any talk of a deadline to achieve a legally binding agreement among nations in 2010, which means it could be years of further negotiations before a legally enforceable agreement is reached. The proposal also does not include overall emissions targets or deadlines reductions.

The talks had been stalled on the specifics of what's being called "MRV" for short: actions by individual countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are "measurable, reportable, verifiable". In today's accord, however, both developed and developing countries will now list their specific actions and commitments, and includes a provision to verify reductions --- including China, which had previously refused any deal that required international audits. Agreement was also reached on a mechanism to finance adaptation for poorer nations who will bear the brunt of climate change.

The nations also agreed to take actions to prevent the Earth's temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius. One of the most contentious issues in the divide between the U.S. and China appears to have been addressed: the accord contains provisions that will require countries, including China, to provide information on the implementation of their actions ("reportable"), and be subject to international review and analysis ("verifiable").

The 2 degree Celsius limit was previously agreed upon in earlier negotiations. Delegates from low-lying island nations and least-developed countries, which will bear the brunt of climate change, had called for a target limit of 1.5C degrees, but their calls were rejected as unrealistic, given the current political climate. Although specific targets were not established in the newly-brokered proposal, a U.N. document leaked yesterday at the conference concluded that current pledges from countries to reduce their emissions would add up to a 3 degree Celsius global temperature rise, which scientists say could have very unpleasant consequences.

The Guardian has posted a quick chart of the projected effects at different temperature scenarios. It's important to note that while there is much uncertainty in making future predictions in such a complex system, scientists stress that the uncertainty cuts both ways: while the effects may be less than projected, they could also be much more.

Dramatic details emerged as U.S. officials told the NY Times:

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.

Later, at the press conference immediately following the announcement, the president acknowledged, "We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go." Speaking of the lack of a legally binding agreement, he stated, ""If we just waited for that, we'd not make any progress."

Environmental groups reacted swiftly to the announcement, with some calling the announcement no great 'breakthrough', charging that it essentially keeps to the targets countries had already announced prior to the conference. Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope tonight called the agreement "incomplete": "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.” Pope went on to say in a statement that "the rest of the world paid a steep price here in Copenhagen because of obstructionism in the United States Senate," referring to climate and clean energy legislation currently stalled in the Senate.

UPDATE @ 4:12pm PT: The not-yet-final text has not been adopted by the European Council, and the poorest countries in the G77.

UPDATE @ 4:56pm PT: Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones is on the ground at the conference in Copenhagen, reporting via Twitter @Kate_Sheppard: "OK sounding like EU, Brazil, Mexico are in. What the African nations are going to say (other than South Africa) is not clear."

UPDATE @ 9:12pm PT: Deal or No Deal? Kate Sheppard and David Corn of Mother Jones, on the ground and pulling an all-nighter in Copenhagen, have an excellent rundown of the proceedings leading up to the accord, and whether it is the real deal or not: "Obama's Copenhagen Deal".

FINAL UPDATE @ 10:07pm PT: Reuters boils down the major points: "FACTBOX: Main points of the Copenhagen Accord".

The conference continues --- it's now after 7am Saturday local Copenhagen time, with everyone visibly and audibly tired, but they're not finished yet. You can watch the proceedings live (and via archive) at the U.N.'s live webcast site. Or check out the twitter feed from Dave Roberts of Grist --- he's tweeting the play-by-play of each nation's remarks at the conference. Scroll through his tweets to get a bullet-point overview of the proceedings (plus a fair bit o' snark).

REALLY FINAL UPDATE @ 10:04am Saturday: The U.N. conference, after 31 straight hours of negotiations, was finally gavelled to a close mid-morning on Saturday without reaching any binding agreement, and without targets or timetables for emissions reductions.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon declared in the final plenary that the conference would officially "take note" of The Copenhagen Accord, the last-minute deal sketched out by Obama and five major nations (the BASIC countries: Brazil, South Africa, India, China), after a handful of countries objected to the document (Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, and Sudan). The accord document was "approved" with countries in support of it listed at the top, but not "adopted". All provisions of the Accord will apply to countries that sign onto it.

In a nutshell, "noting" the accord officially activates components of the accord that would otherwise remain dormant, namely the two international aid initiatives that would provide $30 billion in short-term funding and $100 billion in long-term funding, respectively, for adaptation and mitigation to the least-developed countries and island nations that will bear the brunt of climate change.

Secretary General Ban called the murky end of the conference "just a beginning", and characterized the contentious talks as a critical step in reaching a legally binding agreement in 2010 --- even though an official deadline of 2010 was ultimately removed from draft texts.

U.N. Deputy Secretary Robert Orr, in response to reporters' questions, called the accord a key step that advances climate negotiations and maintains momentum. Orr noted that he had personally never observed world leaders directly involved in negotiations. He characterized the contentious negotiations as a natural evolution of the talks, now that international climate negotiations have, for the first time, moved out of the realm of the rhetorical and theoretical, and into actions that will have actual, real-world consequences.

Some further coverage:

NYT: U.N. Climate Talks ‘Take Note’ of Accord Backed by U.S.

Guardian UK: Low targets, goals dropped: Copenhagen ends in failure: Deal thrashed out at talks condemned as climate change scepticism in action

Climate Progress: Obama Hits the Reset Button on the Foundations of International Climate Agreements: A move away from developed vs. developing countries to major emitters and everyone else. But there is still a lot of work to be done and a question remains whether this is the right forum for a climate agreement.

NYT Dot Earth blog: Scenes from a Climate Floor Fight

The Vine Blog: Was Copenhagen A Disaster Or Decent First Step?: Among environmentalists, there seem to be two emerging schools of thought on the tentative deal that was just struck in Copenhagen.

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