Obama initiative edges climate summit to non-binding deal

19th December 2009
Press Release

Obama initiative edges climate summit to non-binding deal FRANK McDONALD and HARRY McGEE in Copenhagen - Saturday 19th December 2009

THE UN climate summit was working hard early today to conclude an agreement after a day of highlevel negotiations involving a select number of heads of state and government – including US president Barack Obama.

“We are close to seeing a legally non-binding Copenhagen outcome after 36 hours of gruelling, intensive negotiations,” India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, told Reuters. This followed direct talks between Mr Obama and key developing country leaders.

But Minister for the Environment John Gormley said late last night that the deal on offer was “underwhelming” and its only advantage was that it “keeps the process alive” until the next climate change conference in Mexico in December 2010.

Mr Obama told a press briefing for the US media he accepted that “more work and confidence-building and trust between developing countries and developed countries [would be needed] before we see another legally binding agreement signed”.

If Copenhagen had not produced any deal, it would mean taking “two steps back”, he said. And in a clear reference to the domestic political situation in the US, he added: “I wanted to make sure that whatever we promised we will be in a position to deliver”.

Mr Obama reached an understanding with Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao on one of the key stumbling blocks – China’s opposition to report “transparently” its progress on implementing its pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions, now the world’s highest.

Other leaders who agreed terms with the US president were India’s prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and South African president Jacob Zuma. An unnamed US official conceded that the deal was not sufficient to stop climate change, but an “important first step”.

The overall objective would be to seek to limit the rise in average global temperatures to two degrees Celsius. But there was still resistance among developing countries to agreeing on a global target to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

All day, a seven-page document was being negotiated behind closed doors at the Bella convention centre by a core group of 28 countries, representing all regions of the world, while the representatives of 165 other nations awaited the outcome.

EU leaders were studying the text, as well as the “understandings” reached between the US and others, and a new round of consultations with other groups was under way at the time of writing. A full plenary session was expected to go on late into the night.

Friends of the Earth described the draft agreement as “a disaster for the world’s poorest”, while Christian Aid said it was “flawed” and would actually “cost lives”. Oxfam Ireland characterised it as a “historic cop-out . . . a triumph of spin over substance”.

Members of Climate Justice Action shaved their heads bald in “shame” over the failure of world leaders to make a credible deal. But after a week of protests in Copenhagen, they were now “building a strong international movement for climate justice”.

Greenpeace US director Phil Radford said that by not offering more ambitious American emissions cuts, Mr Obama “showed his disregard for the science and the victims of climate change in the United States and abroad . . . All we got was my way or the highway.”

Mr Obama flew in to Copenhagen’s snowy Kastrup airport yesterday morning and almost immediately began a round of multilateral and bilateral meetings with world leaders, later telling a plenary session that he had come “not to talk, but to act”.

Two Latin American presidents – Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia – denounced the non-inclusive nature of negotiations. Mr Chavez ended an impassioned speech to the plenary session yesterday by quoting former Cuban president Fidel Castro, who had written recently that that decisions taken to save humanity in these talks would end up “closing without any glory”.

The Irish Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009