UPDATE: Obama speech to Copenhagen presses other major emitters on transparency and emphasises action over talk

Publish date: December 18, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

COPENHAGEN – US President Barack Obama called on world leaders to move swiftly to address climate change, and, challenging China and other major emitters, pressed for a global climate change accord to include a way to monitor whether countries are complying with promised emissions cuts.

Speaking just hours after arriving here for what is supposed to be the last day of high-stakes talks to address global warming, Obama told those gathered: “The time for talk is over.”

Negotiations were still in a fractured state as he began his address, a draft text for an agreement having been rejected in an overnight session. Obama’s speech followed that of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who proved to be a hard act to follow.

Addressing the so-called informal gathering of the plenary session the UN climate talks Obama said he was here to “reaffirm America’s commitment to action” and to say “we are ready to get this done today.”

 “I am not here for talk but for action,” he told 119 world leader gathered at the Bella Center negotiations facility.  

He re-encapsulated American promises to kick in on “fast start” funding for nations most vulnerable to climate change in a fund that will include a $10 billion contribution this year and reach $100 billion by 2020. He also said “I’m confident that America will fulfill the commitments that we have made: cutting our emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020, and by more than 80 percent by 2050 in line with final legislation.”

He also said that this would be America’s tack regardless of the outcome of two weeks of often frayed negotiations here.

“America is going to continue on this course of action no matter what happens in Copenhagen,” he said.

The US president also appeared to be addressing China and India when he broached the hard fought issue on transparent reporting of nations’ emissions cuts and effort.

He said that it is crucial “to hold each other accountable” for commitments.

“We must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and to exchange this information in a transparent manner,” Obama told the plenary session.
“These measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty,” he said, in a direct reference to the concerns expressed by Chinese officials, who have been balking at proposed verification measures.

“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.”

The talks ongoing for the past two weeks, appear locked over the verification measures. Within an hour of Air Force One’s touchdown in Copenhagen Friday morning, Obama was in at a large meeting with a high-level group of leaders representing some 20 countries and organizations.

However closed door meetings at the Bella Center negotiations facility between White House staffers and Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei seem to have resulted in an agreement between the two countries on the transparency issue, as was confirmed by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in remarks to the plenary session several minutes before Obama spoke. Other observers in the Bella Center, however, have said that China and the United States are still far apart on this issue.

Obama said from the dais that the schisms between rich and poor where significant, but that – with funding supplied by richer nations – a bridge must be built.

“We know the fault lines because we’ve been imprisoned by them for years,” Obama said.

“We can again choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years.” But, he warned, that such a course would leave leaders “back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year, perhaps decade after decade—all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.”

Obama spoke for about eight minutes and was emphatic in his delivery.

“We are running short on time,” he said. “And at this point, the question is whether we will move forward together, or split apart. Whether we prefer posturing to action.”

China and the United States went into meetings immediately following Obama’s speech, said a source observing the proceedings at the Bella Center. Obama is also scheduled to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss ongoing arms control issues. Obama is scheduled to leave Copenhagen by 6pm local time.

Finance rather than emissions pledges seems to be the make or break part of any deal emerging from Copenhagen at the moment as leaders retreat into talks.

Speaking directly before Obama at the informal plenary session, Brazil’s Lula da Silva received rousing applause for his speech.

He told delegates: “We, the developing countries… when we think in money, we should not think that someone is paying us a favour. “

He continued: “We should not think that someone is giving something that we are begging for, because the money that would be put on the table is the payment for greenhouse emissions released over two centuries by those countries that industrialised themselves first.”

Lula de Silva further pledge that his country would not only undertake climate mitigation activities, but would finance these activities itself. He said further that his own country is willing to contribute economically to climate change measures in other, more needing countries.

“I have not said this at home, and not even to my team here in Copenhagen, but if it is necessary for Brazil to tap money to other countries, we will be willing to participate in the (UN) finance mechanisms,” he said, “IF we reach a global agreement here in Copenhagen today.”

He agreed that the United States had a right to demand transparency from countries whose climate efforts it aids, saying, “Those countries that provide funds have the right to demand transparency.”

Still, Lula de Silva underlined that the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of emerging economy emissions” should respect the sovereignty of each country” and that action on climate change should not hamper economic growth in the developing world.

“For a lot of people in Brazil, in Africa, in India, China and other developing countries three meals a day is still something of the future,” he said.

President Lula de Silva also said that he would not agree on a statement in Copenhagen “only to be able to say we agreed on something.” Instead “we should together, rich and poor countries, establish a common ground for an agreement, so we can leave Copenhagen proud.”

As well as the leaders’ session, talks are scheduled on texts that sources say remain full of fundamental divisions.

One developing country negotiator told the BBC that the rejected draft political accord hammered out and rejected last night had arrived “as if from God.”

“It is very confusing, and developing countries are very disappointed because they’ve invested a lot of time in the documents they’re negotiating here,” said Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a Geneva-based think-tank.

“People feel their time has been wasted,” he said.

There were reportedly a number of sticking points over the draft agreement. One of them appears to have been the absence of a commitment to a legally binding treaty, which many developing countries have been insisting on, the BBC reported.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said: “President Obama said it was time to act. And if we are to act, then I have to ask you – starting from now, please fulfil the Kyoto Protocol.”

The draft declaration is reportedly set to mention a cap of 2 degrees Celsius, but a document prepared by the UN climate convention secretariat, which was leaked to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, confirms that current pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions are almost certainly not enough to keep the rise in the global average temperature within that level.