Obama joins final-hour push for climate pact

US President Barack Obama joins dozens of world leaders in Copenhagen on the final day of the UN climate talks after negotiators failed to clinch an elusive deal in all-night talks.


After two weeks of often chaotic wrangling and behind-the-scenes horse trading, the Copenhagen climate summit reached a final-day climax with the arrival of US President Barack Obama on Friday. Obama will seek to give impetus to talks that have not yet yielded a deal on carbon emissions cuts, highlighting the complexity of reaching international political agreement in the fight against global warming.

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Obama’s decision to attend the summit's closure underscores a shift in US environmental policy following the Bush administration. But as president of the world’s number two emitter of greenhouse gases he will likely face pressure to pledge deeper emission cuts.

Obama ‘flying into a storm’

Upon his arrival Obama huddled with leaders of top developed states, including Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and key developing nations including a representative from China, and leaders of Brazil, India and South Africa, a US official said. The leaders discussed an initial draft of a text -- prepared during overnight talks held by representatives from 26 rich and developing countries -- that could form the basis of a political statement at the end of the Copenhagen negotiations.

The draft around which the negotiators united reflects broad agreement on limiting the rise of global temperature at 2 degree Celsius from pre-industrial era levels by 2050. Any final outcome could also include $10 billion a year in climate funds for the least developed countries over the next three years, climbing to $100 billion annually by 2020.

But the all-night meeting ended without agreement on the central element of a climate deal -- the timing and degree of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The two degrees declaration would stop way short of demands from poorer countries. Small island nations, whose very existence is threatened by rising seas, have called for a cap of 1.5 C (2.7 F).

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“There are deep differences in opinion and view on how we should solve this. We’ll try our best, until the last minutes of this conference,” said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

FRANCE 24's special correspondent in Copenhagen, Gulliver Cragg, said Obama was indeed “flying into a storm,” and emphasised the uncertainty surrounding the draft. “Still people are raising objections, and of course even once this text is agreed on by the group of leaders that started working on it, they then have to present it to the other 167 countries that are represented here. So there is still plenty of room for objections to be raised to the text they’re preparing,” he explained.

Emerging from the meeting that followed Obama’s arrival this morning, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that there was still no deal and that Chinese resistance to monitoring of emissions was a sticking point.

US and China the deal makers, or breakers

China and India have said they are willing to take voluntary measures to slow their surges in heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions. But they are reluctant to accept tough international inspection and insist rich nations shoulder the main burden by accepting huge reduction targets.

FRANCE 24's correspondent in Beijing, Henry Morton, said China has generally been sending “mixed messages.” “Beijing knows that it does have a problem,” Morton explained, “but in reality, with its economy still growing extremely quickly, it’s difficult to see how China will actually decrease carbon dioxide emissions.”

One of Friday’s most highly anticipated developments will be Obama’s meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Speaking from the Bella Centre in Copenhagen, FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg noted that while Obama’s participation in the final day of talks indicates a broad change in US climate policy, concrete pledges have been slower to follow. “The US certainly has seemed a lot more open in their rhetoric to join the fight against climate change, but when it really comes to committing numbers, they haven’t put very much forward,” Cragg said.

Obama has offered to cut US carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 over a 2005 benchmark, a figure that aligns with legislation put before Congress but is well below pledges by the European Union and Japan.

Obama’s ability to drastically alter US policy is hampered by political constraints at home: voters oppose paying billions of dollars to developing states to fight the costs of climate change, and Congress has yet to pass a comprehensive plan on climate change.

If as recently as a few weeks ago many were hoping that the Copenhagen summit would produce a legally binding agreement, the final-hour aspirations are considerably more modest. Negotiators may seek to rally around a provisional deal, before world leaders convert it into a full legally binding treaty next year. This would succeed the Kyoto Protocol whose present round ends in 2012. The United States never ratified Kyoto, and the pact doesn't bind developing nations.


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