High Drama in Copenhagen (per Administration Officials)

By Lindsey Ellerson

Dec 18, 2009 5:47pm

Senior Obama administration officials describe quite a dramatic scene at Climate Change Conference.

Officials say President Obama was frustrated. The conference was in complete chaos.

At about 730 pm Denmark time – the president was supposed to have left an hour before — he learned that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, with whom he was supposed to meet, was meeting with the leaders of India, South Africa, and Brazil – the main players holding up any sort of political agreement.

The president heard about this and said he wanted to go to the meeting.

“Four against one,” an official said to the president.

“No problem,” he replied.

A senior administration official says the president “barged into the meeting,” where he joined China’s Wen, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma.

The reporters’ pool note from that time said that President Obama walked into the room and called out from the door, “Mr. Premier, are you ready to see me? Are you ready?”

They talked for roughly 45 minutes and emerged with a non-binding political accord.

It is a modest achievement, officials concede, but they insist it is an achievement nonetheless.

“It is undeniably a step forward,” said an official. “Is it two steps forward? I’m not making that case.”

The president was unable to get the four leaders to commit to a deadline of 2010 for a legally binding international climate change treaty. South Africa and Brazil have an ensured capital flow under the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012, so they balked at giving that up until they knew what they’d be giving it up for.

What does the accord accomplish?

• All signatories will agree to slow global warming by allowing a temperature increase of no more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. How emission reductions will be achieved will be dictated by science –  theoretically this could require greenhouse gas emission cuts of more than 50 percent.

• In terms of verification – what the Chinese in particular had been resisting – all countries will commit to publicly list the actions they will take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and they commit to a mechanism for some sort of public verification.

• Countries will consult with an international mechanism which will analyze their progress against a clear guideline as to whether they are abiding by their agreements.

Obviously the devil is in the details and we are still awaiting those details.


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