President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated arrival in Copenhagen today has turned from a hopeful sign of success into a grim reality check. Immediately after arriving this morning, Obama joined an unscheduled meeting with 18 other world leaders before the most high-profile session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop15) began. The deal depends on the United States and China, the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gas emissions to reach an agreement on a course of action.
At this morning’s session, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao hailed his country’s efforts to curb greenhouse emissions. Wen implied that China would keep its emissions voluntary and unilateral, which was out of step with suggestions that China place its reduction goals within a binding treaty. Then, Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva complained about the Cop15 negotiations’ lack of progress.
A visibly frustrated Obama took the stage immediately after (video), saying he was in Copenhagen “not to talk, but to act.” The question is no longer the nature of the challenge, Obama said, but leaders’ capacity to meet it: “For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, I have to be honest as the world watches us today. I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now and it hangs in the balance. I believe we can act boldly and decisively in the face of a common threat.”
David Corn of Mother Jones wrote that Obama’s speech “signaled a global train wreck… Obama was clearly venting. … If an accord is not reached at this summit, Obama remarked, ‘we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year, perhaps decade after decade all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.’”
Although Obama didn’t mention China directly, he “took a dig at the way the country has resisted transparency measures for monitoring emissions cuts,” as Jonathan Hiskes writes for Grist. “Is this a sign that the Copenhagen talks may fail to produce even a weak, tentative accord—a so-called ‘fig leaf’ deal that would provide world leaders the barest of cover? That’s one line of speculation. Of course, that could be out of date within a few hours.”
Obama reminded the delegates of the United State’s commitment to action on climate change, reiterating Hillary Clinton’s statement Thursday that the country plans to mobilize $100 billion in financing for developing nations by 2020, but “if, and only if, it is part of a broader accord.”
But is a broader accord still possible in Copenhagen? Grist reports that in a one-on-one meeting after Obama’s speech, Obama and Prime Minister Wen discussed “three of the most contentious areas blocking the path to a climate deal on the last day of the summit: Verification guarantees, financing to help developing nations deal with climate change, and permitted emission levels.” Afterward, they asked their negotiators to meet to search for an agreement.
Although China and the U.S. are the biggest players in these talks, it would be remiss to ignore the work of the G77 block of poor nations who are “still playing hardball,” as Jacob Wheeler writes for In These Times. “They’re on the front lines, their people are already dying in the hundreds of thousands due to climate change, and they don’t have the infrastructure to greenify their infrastructure.”
It looks like the world will continue to wait for our leaders to determine the course of action in Copenhagen. Check out LinkTV’s live stream for Cop15 news as it unfolds.
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