White house officials declare they have reached a deal in Copenhagen

Publish date: December 18, 2009

COPENHAGEN – After a long, intense day of diplomatic struggles on a knife-edge and pressing deadlines, US President Barack Obama has reached a "meaningful" climate deal with China, South Africa and India, a White House official told reporters.

Details of the reported agreement emerged after a meeting involving Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Jacob Zuma.

The deal is “not sufficient to combat the threat of climate change, but it’s an important first step,” the official said speaking to reporters at the Bella Center. “No country is entirely satisfied with each element, but this is a meaningful and historic step forward and a foundation from which to make progress.”

“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.

Temperature rise over the day

The adopting of the 2 degree Celsius rise target was at variance with the fourth draft of what is known as the Copenhagen Accord, which was obtained by Bellona Web earlier this afternoon. That draft said countries would shoot for a 1.5 degree Celsius rise, but observers say that the 2 degree rise was the one that was counted on coming out of these non-binding talks.

Overall, Bellona praised the document, known as the “Copehagen Accord,” for dealing with a number of logisitcal hurdles that can be anticipated in future negotiations.

“This is pretty good,” said Bellona President Frederic Hauge after viewing the new, presumably fifth, draft. “It is a way of avoiding future obstructions from the G-77 bloc of nations and is a way of setting things in motion without distraction and without destruction,”he said.

Three catches

There are three main hitches to the document. First, many of the actual leaders, including Obama, won’t be around to sign it. The president left in hopes of beating an East Coast snowstorm home aboard Air Force One.

Further, the carbon mitigation targets will appear only in the appendix of the agreement, making the hard-and-fast numbers something of an addendum to the deal.

Last, the holy grail for environmentalists –  a legally binding agreement to cut emissions, enforce those cuts and get billions of dollars in needed aid to developing nations – remains as elusive as ever.

President Obama, speaking to world leaders gathered this morning at the frenetic end of 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.

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 hour-long session that a White House official described as “constructive,” the New York Times reported.

China main interlocutor

The deal with China on transparency consumed most of Obama’s negotiating time today. Yet, the backing of leading emitter China and other fast developing economies was crucial to any deal.

After emerging from the meeting with India, China and South Africa after a 14-hour-day Obama said: “It is still going to require more work and more confidence-building and greater trust … before I think you are going to see another legally binding treaty signed,’ adding, “”This is a classic example of a situation where if we just waited for that, then we would not make any progress.”

Obama noted that even the legally binding 1997 Kyoto Protocol was ignored by many participants. He criticized the concept of having “a bunch of goals that end up just being words on a page.”

Europeans debate endorsing deal

The European Council met Friday night behind closed doors to decide whether to endorse the deal the United States had struck with the major emerging economies. Several European leaders were upset with the agreement, according to European officials who asked not to be identified, seeing it as weak, the Washington Post reported.

In the day of high brinkmanship and whiplash inducing expectations, Wen did not attend two smaller, impromptu meetings that 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.

At 7 p.m. Copenhagen time, Obama and Wen met again, joined by Singh of India and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, US and European media reported.

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.


Obama 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.

“I don’t know how you have an international agreement where you don’t share information and ensure we are meeting our commitments,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense. That would be a hollow victory.”

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

Wen did, however, meet privately with Obama for about an hour shortly after the American president’s eight-minute speech to the plenary session.

The two leaders “took a step forward and made progress,” a White House official said, after the meeting that broke up a little after 1:35 p.m. Copenhagen time.

All the same, the US, EU, and China aren’t offering anything substantially new but a plan for a plan – basically the same position the world was in this morning.

EU stays put on emissions

The EU did not raise its offer on cutting emissions from 20 percent to 30 percent, as some commentators had anticipated.

The bloc decided last year that it would adopt the higher target if there was a comprehensive global agreement on climate change here.

Many observers had expected – and hoped – that the EU would raise its targets for cutting emissions from 20 percent to 30 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

One party delegate told Bellona Web from the Bella Center, where the negotiations are underway, that the EU’s unwillingness to boost its emissions cuts “was a clear indication that things were not proceeding toward the kind of deal the EU had wanted.”

Addressing the summit on Friday, President Obama said: “While the science of climate change is not in doubt, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now, and it hangs in the balance.”

He said he had come to Copenhagen “not to talk, but to act”.

Unchecked, he said, climate change would pose “unacceptable risks” to international security, the world economy and the planet.


Brazil’s Lula da Silva, who spoke this morning before Obama,  said he was “a little bit frustrated” with the slow pace of the UN talks, which he said reminded him of his work as a trade negotiator.

Like Obama, Lula said Brazil vowed to contribute to a medium-term financing pool for developing countries if a final climate agreement can be reached.

But Lula also questioned the push from Obama and other industrialized nations to end Copenhagen’s summit with only a political document that passes on many of the key issues until next year.

“I’m not sure if some angel or some wise man will come down to this plenary and will put in our minds the intelligence that we lacked up until now,” he said.

 “I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.”

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