With Obama on the ground, UN Climate delegates continue to grind out last of emerging deal, as talks predicted to end Saturday

Publish date: December 18, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

COPENHAGEN- As US president Barack Obama landed in Copenhagen this morning, it was still not apparent what kind of deal an all night crunch session convened by the Danish presidency had yielded, and white house officials talked of the negotiations spilling into Saturday.

The Obama speech had been scheduled in the main plenary room of the Bella Center at 10am. But that hour came and went as delegates and leaders continued to mill about, some of them still brokering deals. Meanwhile, Copenhagen anxiously awaited Obama’s appearance, views by many as the Bella Center’s main attraction.

“These things, as you well know, never run according to schedule, “a White House aide told Bellona Web, highlighting to the already ad hoc performance of the negotiations over the last two weeks.

China, India and the United States were still conducting talks by 11:45am on offering bigger concessions and more transparency, said the aid, was another source of delay in getting Obama before the plenary.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was also delayed in getting to the center through Copenhagen’s cold, congested streets, thus delaying the kick off of the negotiations debate that is procede Obama’s appearance.

Danish Presidet Lars Lokke Rasmussen called late-night talks with a group of 26 influential world leaders on how to unblock negotiations.

“We discussed how we can make progress and we had a very fruitful, constructive dialogue… for almost two hours,” he told reporters. These deals were still being hammered out on the negotiating hall.

The last such UN climate gathering in Bali, Indonesia, ran into overtime, and the workhorse delegates for each country ahre rushing through the hallways, racing against the clock to meet a deadline to complete an agreement by 6 p.m. today, when the event is scheduled to end.

“After experiencing Bali, I anticipated that these talks would end late,” said Bangladesh Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud, who booked his flight home for December 20th. “We don’t want to go home empty-handed. And if that means things running late, then so be it.”

Yvo de Boer, the head of the United Natins Framework Convention on Climate Change, has a flight booked for December 20th, he said at a news conference. Most heads of state are leaving at the end of the day, after the last meeting ends.

Obama’s team has not yet announced when he plans to leave.

“Even if it does run over one more day — I don’t know if it will — if it does come to an agreement and a good conclusion, it’s worthwhile,” Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told Bloomberg.

The negotiations in Copenhagen are aimed at reducing carbon-dioxide emissions to slow global warming. More than 100 world leaders are also wrestling with how to provide poor countries with money to help them cope with rising sea levels and drought, expected results of climate change.

But doubt has been sewn by a leaked UN document that any deals currently on offer will come close to reaching that goal.
The draft declaration from the Copenhagenconfernece is reported by party officials to be set set to mention a cap of 2 degrees Celsius but a document prepared by the UN climate convention secretariat, which was leaked earlier this week, 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.

The analysis says that to achieve that goal, global emissions should be kept at or below 44 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020. But if enacted, the current maximum pledges from developed countries would leave emissions 1.9Gt above that figure; minimum pledges would mean missing the target by 4.2Gt.

Unless this gap is closed, it says – for example by developed nations raising their current overall offer to a cut of 30% from 1990 levels by 2020 – global emissions will “remain on an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal or above 550ppm, with the related temperature rise around 3C”.

The analysis was based on a number of recent studies, notably the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook.

“The stark message for world leaders at Copenhagen is that the proposals on the table – especially from industrialised countries – fall far short of what the world needs,” said Keith Allott, head of climate change for WWF in Britain told the BBC this morning.

Funding still a grind

Despite many expressions of concern about projections of climate change, finance remains as an issue more likely to make or break a deal than emission pledges. The indecision on how to distribute funds – as seen by Bellona Web Wednesday in a draft negotiating text – remain, as then, undecided, according to a party delegate.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her administration was prepared to help establish funding of $100bn a year for developing countries if a deal emerged that met US requirements.

The key US demand is “transparency” from China, seen as a must if the US Senate is to pass legislation controlling emissions.

While Beijing has been hostile to this notion, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said China was ready to engage in “dialogue and co-operation that is not intrusive, that does not infringe on China’s sovereignty”.

There was no immediate reaction from the US delegation to the Chinese offer but, the  Associated Press reports that it went a long way toward meeting American demands.