Climate deal falls short
Dec 18, 2009 - GLENN THRUSH & LOUISE ROUG - Politico
The climate deal reached between U.S, China and other great powers on Friday night is so vague, hastily hatched and non-binding President Obama isn’t even sure he’ll be required to sign it.
“You know, it raises an interesting question as to whether technically there's actually a signature… It's not a legally binding agreement, I don't know what the protocols are,” said a bleary-eyed Obama, before hopping in Air Force One for the trip back to Washington.
The official accord voted on by the 193-nation COP-15 Conference noted but did not endorse the deal struck by the leaders of the U.S., China, India, South Africa and Brazil.
"It’s a catastrophe," said Dan Joergensen, a member of the European delegation, of the five-nation agreement. "We’re so far away from the criteria that was set up in order to call it a success, and those weren’t really that ambitious to start with."
Obama told reporters he was able to extract a first-ever commitment by India and China to subject their internal monitoring of emissions to international scrutiny, a move he had earlier tied to American participation in a $100 billion-per-year fund for poor nations.
“Those commitments will be subject to international consultation and analysis” similar to World Trade Organization rules but “will not be legally binding,” said Obama. “It will allow each country to show to the world what [they] are doing.”
But the agreement – reached in Friday night talks between Obama and leaders of China, India, South Africa and Brazil – was more notable for what it doesn’t accomplish than what it does, an inconvenient truth Obama ruefully acknowledged to reporters.
“This is going to be hard,” Obama said. “This is hard within countries; it's going to be even harder between countries. And one of the things that I've felt very strongly about during the course of this year is that hard stuff requires not paralysis, but it requires going ahead and making the best of the situation that you're in.”
He conceded that no more specific deal – much less a legally binding one – was possible until the issue of “trust” between industrialized and developing nations was resolved.
The agreement contained none of the specific emissions targets European and African negotiators had hoped to nail down, simply a broad-brush promise by the countries in the room to cap the overall global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius and provide a written record of their planned reductions.
It's unclear how many nations, particularly poorer countries who felt shut out of the process, were included in the final deal or how they will vote if the deal is put to one.
It’s also unclear how the president’s half-a-loaf approach will sit with a deadlocked Senate, or with the Africans, Europeans and Asians who view him as the quintessential 21st Century leader.
"Squarely the blame is on President Obama. When you look very carefully and dig into what happened, you find that there is no difference whatsoever between President Obama and President Bush, except one of them tells it as it is," said Lumumba Di-Aping, the chief negotiator of the G77 bloc of developing countries, in an interview with POLITICO,
He added: "This deal confirms what we have said about the lack not only of transparency but the undemocratic bent of developed nations' leaders… “It is a mockery."
But administration officials painted a different picture, claiming Obama playing an extraordinarily direct – even tactile – diplomatic role, with the president demanding to be admitted to a closed meeting of other countries over the objections of a Chinese protocol officer.
Obama predicted the deal would be attacked by environmentalists who complain that such an incremental deal does nothing to stem the alarming rise in global temperatures and sea levels that many scientists say will be irreversible by the middle of the century.
"The US has lied to the world when they called it a deal and they lied to over a hundred countries when they said would listen to their needs,” said Kate Horner with Friends of the Earth, a non-governmental organization that had called for strict emissions targets.
“This is a toothless declaration.”
Conservative lobbying groups, who oppose the United States signing a significant climate treaty, also dismissed the agreement.
"When politicians call something 'meaningful,' that means it isn't," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. "Without even reading the accord, pro-growth, limited government conservatives today can celebrate the word, 'meaningful.' Today that adjective probably saved thirty million jobs."
Obama’s allies say he got the best deal possible, and set the stage for a better result next year at the climate change conference in Mexico City.
“The agreement reached tonight in Copenhagen is a breakthrough in the global effort to combat the climate crisis and could not have been reached without President Obama’s active involvement and leadership,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement on the deal struck by the five nations.
“The President has secured a critical agreement that includes an achievable mitigation target, transparency measures and a financing mechanism – the three key fundamentals outlined in the President’s speech today and embodied in the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill.”
"Today’s agreement takes the first important steps toward true transparency and accountability in an international climate agreement,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “The sooner the U.S. speaks through Senate legislation, the sooner we can set the terms of engagement for talks to come."
Earlier Friday, a visibly angry Obama threw down the gauntlet at China and other developing nations, declaring that the time has come "not to talk but to act" on climate change.
Obama’s public ultimatum kicked off a furious round of bilateral negotiations between the world’s two largest pollution emitters as the conference entered its final hours, with Obama plunging into a pair of bargaining sessions involving Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who had earlier boycotted a larger, multi-nation meeting with Obama.
But he struck a very different tone with reporters later Friday when he acknowledged that China and other developing countries had a point by resisting international measures that could derail their rapid growth and attempts to eradicate poverty.
“From the perspective of the developing countries like China and India, they're saying to themselves, per capita our carbon footprint remains very small, and we have hundreds of millions of people who don't even have electricity yet, so for us to get bound by a set of legal obligations could potentially curtail our ability to develop, and that's not fair,” Obama said.
“So I think that you have a fundamental deadlock in perspectives that were brought to the discussions during the course of this week. And both sides have legitimate points,” he added.
Lisa Lerer and Fred Barbash contributed to this report.