U.S: "Significant Breakthrough" at Climate Change Talks

W.H. says deal would allow for monitoring of emission reduction efforts.

ByABC News via logo
December 18, 2009, 7:07 AM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark Dec. 18, 2009 -- A senior administration official, speaking to ABC News, heralded what he called a "significant breakthrough" at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this afternoon.

President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Jacob Zuma have agreed to a political "accord" that the official said will "provide the foundation for an eventual legally binding treaty."

In the accord, the official said, "nations will list their actions and stand behind them."

World leaders were looking to President Obama to help break a deadlock at the climate conference in Copenhagen, but prospects had looked bleak as White House officials indicated that Chinese officials were refusing to budge on their refusal to allow a transparent verification system, a stance that would have made a deal difficult to achieve.

The original goal of the climate change conference was a legally binding international treaty reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, but with China hesitant to commit to serious greenhouse gas emission cuts, it became clear months ago that would not happen.

Leaders from more than 190 countries have spent the last two weeks working on a more informal climate change agreement, but that might be out of reach too.

Obama scheduled a second private, one-on-one meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jibao to make a final push for a deal but the meeting did not take place. The U.S. president shifted his schedule around in Copenhagen to meet with world leaders.

Speaking to attendees on the final day of the conference, the president expressed his frustration at the stalemate.

"We are running short on time," Obama said. "There has to be movement on all sides."

Obama met with Jibao for nearly an hour earlier today to press the case that China needs to allow for transparency.

Obama and Wen directed their negotiators to work on a bilateral basis and with negotiators from other countries to see if an agreement can be reached here.

But a senior White House official in Copenhagen told ABC News the Chinese are holding their ground.

"We've done what we can here," the official said."The Chinese are dug in on transparency and are refusing to let people know they're living up to their end of the agreement."

"The president's priority is to make our economy far more focused on a clean energy economy that creates jobs," the official said. "He is here to work constructively and participate in hoping to get an international accord. But not getting one here won't change wanting to transform our economy to create the new foundation he's talked about."

Speaking to conference attendees, Obama addressed China's resistance.

"I don't know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and making sure we are meeting our commitments," he said. "That doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory."

Earlier today, Obama pushed for transparency, saying publicly that "we must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and to exchange this information in a transparent manner. These measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty. They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible, and that we are living up to our obligations. For without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page."

He added that the offer was on the table "if -- and only if -- it is part of the broader accord" including transparency.

The White House had hoped for an agreement before the president's high-stakes visit, but negotiations had been doomed to failure even before the conference began. In Copenhagen, negotiators worked through the night and met for hours behind closed doors in the hopes of reaching some sort of an agreement, with U.S. officials working quickly to reach a compromise before Obama's arrival.