With a fourth draft agreement on the table, negotiations grind into the night

Publish date: December 18, 2009

COPENHAGEN – The words “our ability to take collective action is in doubt,” spoken by President Barack Obama as he addressed this morning’s plenary session at the UN climate talks seem to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy as world leaders find themselves no more able to break the deadlocks plaguing the talks since the beginning

Earlier, European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimos told reporters that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had asked leaders to stay overnight. This was contradicted some minutes later when the UN said explicitly its chief had not asked world leaders to stay the night.

Later news reports of Dimas’ original statements began circulating on the Summit’s official website again.

If this question cannot be agreed or accurately reported, one might ask, what here in Copenhagen can?

Whatever the case, the talks are now expected to continue late into the night.

All the same, world leaders as of Friday evening were locked in talks to deliver a last minute climate deal – which in its fourth draft currently runs only two and half pages long – and confusion has dominated the final scheduled day of talks as several draft texts were circulated on Friday afternoon.

The fourth draft (downloadable to the right)  is entitled the “Copenhagen Accord,” a title local and European media reported was debated for hours.

Despite its miniscule size, there was some good news to be had in the latest draft, which was obtained by Bellona Web.

It contains, should it stand in its present form or the rest of the night,  a goal capping global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a tougher standard than the previous 2 degrees Celsius threshold in earlier drafts, and a half a degree lower that what was recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Still, there was no hint of the emissions caps that were thought to be critical before the conference began two weeks ago, and tedious debates continued on the language of the text.

Delegates and others close to the negotiators said the final language was changing minute by minute. “It’s sticky,” France’s lead negotiator, Brice Lalonde, told Greenwire.

The US, EU and China have not offered anything new in public, prompting fears that a meaningful deal to curb global emissions was slipping beyond reach.

US President Barack Obama held a second meeting with China’s premier in an effort to break the deadlock and were said by officials to have taken a “step forward.”

According to one delegate that spoke to Bellona Web, Obama’s mentioning of accountability for emissions in his speech – which was a barb flung in China’s direction – stung so badly that Chinese Premier Wen Jibao returned to his hotel room.

The US has demanded that China submit to UN monitoring of its emissions. China, though signalling though its Vice Prime Minister He Yafei earlier in this week that his country was ready to engage in “dialogue and co-operation that is not intrusive, that does not infringe on China’s sovereignty.”

But the arrival today of Premier Jibao backtracked on that willingness and the United States and China have only just emerged from talks announcing some modicum of progress.

Getting the Chinese on board with American on the transparency issue is key to passing a US climate bill.

“The only way we’ll be successful in America is for countries like China and India to make an equivalent commitment,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham told “We’re not going to unilaterally disarm.”

Earlier, a draft political agreement drawn up by a small group of countries was rejected during overnight discussions.

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.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who spoek 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.”

Reporters and delegates crowd outside the main plenary room in the Bella Center to listen to Obama’s speech at the beginning of a day that has not yet ended.

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