Obama urges swift – if 'imperfect' – climate deal

In the cliffhanger final hours of the UN climate conference, US President Barack Obama told the world to stop bickering and embrace even an imperfect climate deal, or risk a disastrous split that would let global warming advance unchallenged.



AFP - A terse US President Barack Obama on Friday told the world to stop bickering and embrace even an imperfect climate deal, or risk a disastrous split that would let global warming advance unchallenged. 

"I have to be honest, as the world watches us today, I think ability to take collective action is in doubt right now and it hangs in the balance," Obama  told leaders in the cliffhanger final hours of the UN climate conference. 

"At this point the question is whether we will move forward together or split apart, whether we prefer posturing to action."

Obama is wagering personal political prestige in the drive to agree a new pact on curbing carbon emissions -- but also tried to shore up his domestic flank, amid rising skepticism about a new climate bill back home. 

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He declined to offer new sweeteners to get a deal, rebuked China's reluctance to allow outside scrutiny of action on greenhouse-gas emissions and warned developing states they could forget aid that had no strings attached.

"I am sure that many consider this an imperfect framework... no country will get everything that it wants.

"We are prepared to get this done today, but there has to be movement on all sides," Obama said, in a speech greeted only by lukewarm applause by delegates. 

At times, Obama appeared impatient, in a speech shorn of the soaring aspirational rhetoric and criticism of past US positions which characterised his early ventures onto the world stage. 

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Immediate reaction from those who hoped Obama would offer new momentum for the knife-edge effort to agree a new climate deal was scathing. 

"The world was waiting for the spirit of 'yes we can' but all we got was my way or the highway," said Greenpeace US executive director Phil Radford. 

Raman Mehta, ActionAid's climate change expert in Asia added: "Obama has said nothing to save the Copenhagen conference from failure.

"A key sticking point of the quest for a new climate change action plan is a dispute between Washington and Beijing on the US demand for outside scrutiny of action by developing states on climate changed pledges.

"Without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page," Obama said.

"I don't know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and ensuring we are meeting our commitments. That doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory." 

Obama did not offer deeper emissions cuts than the United States has already put on the table, or specific figures on how much Washington will pay to bankroll the climate change fight. 

Washington has already said it will not budge on its offer of curbing US carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 -- less than EU offers but as much as the US political climate will bear. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday Washington would pay into a fund worth 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change, but left the exact figure unspoken.    

Obama flew overnight from Washington and ditched his planned schedule for impromptu talks with more than 20 world leaders, as fear of a breakdown haunted the summit in its final frenetic hours. 

He 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. 

Obama faces domestic political considerations limiting his bargaining power in Copenhagen, even as he seeks to assert US leadership in the battle to rein in carbon emissions after years of foot dragging in Washington. 

The United States is pushing for an "operational agreement" to pave the way for a binding treaty on cutting carbon emissions next year -- which would have more teeth than a flurry of mere pledges of future action by nations.

US sceptics warn a domestic cap-and-trade plan to cut emissions logjammed in the Senate will strangle the nascent economic recovery. 

At the same time, the lack of a new US global warming law limits Obama's capacity to compromise in Copenhagen.

Should he go home with no deal, prospects for Congressional action on the cap and trade bill will take a huge blow.

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