What Will Obama Achieve in Copenhagen?

Friday, December 18, 2009

President Barack Obama arrived for the last day of the United Nations climate conference.

The Associated Press is reporting that the president and other world leaders held an emergency meeting to come up with a political agreement to salvage a conference marked by deep divisions between rich and poor countries. President Obama urged the leaders to accept a less-than-perfect pact, but didn't offer new U.S. concessions.

"No country will get everything that it wants," Obama said in a brief address to the 193 nations gathered after two weeks of mostly stalled talks.

Without mentioning China specifically, the president addressed Beijing's resistance to making its emissions-reduction pledges subject to international review.

"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," Obama said. "That doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory."

Obama later met privately with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for nearly an hour to discuss emissions targets, financing and transparency. A senior Obama administration official said the two took "a step forward," which may lead them to work on a possible agreement. The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the leaders' private talk.

Obama planned to spend only about nine hours at the summit--his agenda in Copenhagen also includes a series of large and small meetings with various leaders.

The U.S. commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses mirrors legislation before Congress. It calls for a 17 percent reduction in such pollution from 2005 levels by 2020--the equivalent of 3 percent to 4 percent from the more commonly used baseline of 1990 levels. That is far less than the offers from the European Union, Japan and Russia.

Even that target was hard-won in a skittish Congress, and Obama has decided he can't go further without potentially souring final passage of the bill, approved in the House but not yet considered in the Senate. He also could imperil eventual Senate ratification of any global treaty that emerges next year.

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