Grist's coverage of Copenhagen climate talks

Obama walkingOn Friday, the Obama administration announced a startling shift in plans: rather than stop by the Copenhagen climate talks on Dec. 9, Obama will be going on the 18th, the final day of the meeting — a notable increase in commitment (and political exposure) from the administration.

The first week of every COP meeting consists of posturing, speeches, protests, and NGO reports. Everything of significance to the treaty is announced late in the meetings, often on the last day, after a flurry of last-minute negotiations. Coming to Copenhagen at the climax of the talks, specifically to push negotiations “over the top,” as the White House statement says, is a risky move for Obama. He’s got skin in the game now; he’ll look foolish if he rides in at the last minute and fails to broker an agreement.

If he’s willing to stick his neck out like this, Obama must be pretty confident that he can get a deal. There have been signs of momentum for weeks now. The much-discussed deal with China was just one in a raft of commitments from the developing countries, including India and Brazil. Movement from the developing world has undercut one of U.S. conservatives’ principal arguments for inaction. Over 65 world leaders have pledged to attend.

Sign Up for More News from GristMeanwhile, the U.S. EPA is expected to finalize its endangerment ruling on CO2 on Monday — the kickoff day of Copenhagen — making regulations on CO2 legally mandated and all but inevitable. That’s likely to help motivate the Senate, where Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are busy working out a compromise bill that can get 60 votes. Kerry released the Foreign Relations Committee’s contribution to the bill today, which would authorize programs, including adaptation funding and technology transfer, that the U.S. is expected to offer as part of a deal in Copenhagen.

After being declared dead a dozen separate times by the media, it would seem Copenhagen is still very much alive and kicking.

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Hidden in the White House statement are a few other interesting tidbits. It says:

There has also been progress in advancing the Danish proposal for an immediate, operational accord that covers all of the issues under negotiation, including the endorsement of key elements of this approach by the 53 countries represented at the Commonwealth Summit last weekend.

But that proposal was, and is, incredibly controversial.

It also says:

This week, the President discussed the status of the negotiations with Prime Minister Rudd, Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, and Prime Minister Brown and concluded that there appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012 to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable and least developed countries that could be destabilized by the impacts of climate change.

The $10 billion figure is a big deal. It’s nothing like the amount the developing world wants — that would add another zero — but it’s the “fast start” money without which they would have walked out. It’s only a down payment, and will be one of the most contentious points of negotiation, but nonetheless, it marks the first time developed countries have collectively committed to a package of climate aid for the developing world.

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Here’s the full text of the White House statement:

STATEMENT FROM THE PRESS SECRETARY ON THE UNITED NATIONS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE
 
The President strongly believes that all nations have a responsibility to combat the threat of climate change. He has already taken unprecedented action to do so at home, including an historic investment in clean energy solutions that will reduce our dependence on oil and create jobs.  Abroad, he has engaged leaders bilaterally and multilaterally on the issue of climate change, and agreed to participate in the climate conference in Copenhagen.
 
After months of diplomatic activity, there is progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord in which all countries pledge to take action against the global threat of climate change.  Following bilateral meetings with the President and since the United States announced an emissions reduction target that reflects the progress being made in Congress towards comprehensive energy legislation, China and India have for the first time set targets to reduce their carbon intensity. There has also been progress in advancing the Danish proposal for an immediate, operational accord that covers all of the issues under negotiation, including the endorsement of key elements of this approach by the 53 countries represented at the Commonwealth Summit last weekend.  
 
This week, the President discussed the status of the negotiations with Prime Minister Rudd, Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, and Prime Minister Brown and concluded that there appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012 to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable and least developed countries that could be destabilized by the impacts of climate change.  The United States will pay its fair share of that amount and other countries will make substantial commitments as well.  In Copenhagen, we also need to address the need for financing in the longer term to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.  Providing this assistance is not only a humanitarian imperative — it’s an investment in our common security, as no climate change accord can succeed if it does not help all countries reduce their emissions.
 
Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the President believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th rather than on December 9th. There are still outstanding issues that must be negotiated for an agreement to be reached, but this decision reflects the President’s commitment to doing all that he can to pursue a positive outcome.  The United States will have representation in Copenhagen throughout the negotiating process by State Department negotiators and Cabinet officials who will highlight the great strides we have made this year towards a clean energy economy.

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