The chief negotiator for the European Commission announced this afternoon in Barcelona that the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass legislation before December has doomed the chances for success in Copenhagen.

Barcelona climate talksA climate protest at the Barcelona talks: World leaders with ‘big heads’ moving cash from an aid money box to a climate money box. The stunt highlights rich country plans to use overseas aid money to pay for their climate finance commitments.Oxfam InternationalEurope now predicts that a legally binding treaty is impossible to expect in Copenhagen, and that it could take up to a full year beyond the global summit this December in order to reach a binding deal. 

Artur Runge-Metzger, the chief negotiator for the European Commission, told reporters today that, “It was highly desirable to have the [U.S.] numbers on the table in Copenhagen. There’s no doubt.”

Runge-Metzger confirmed that any chance of rescuing a deal in Copenhagen “depends then very much on President Obama himself, on how confident he feels [about] how far the process has moved forward, whether he can also put numbers on the table or not.”

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“Everybody sees political realities particularly in Washington and we know that the process there is slowing down politically,” he said.  “So we need to be flexible. We cannot say that Copenhagen is the end.”

When asked whether Europe expected more rapid change from the Obama administration after eight years of Bush, Runge-Metzger said, “I have never expected the U.S. [position] changing totally. The interests in the different states are still the same as they were 5 years ago, 4 years ago, 3 years ago.”

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“The reduction targets is really what, politically, is the most difficult issue, and certainly not something that is going to be decided by senior officials in a normal negotiation round. For that you will need to have ministerial blessing or heads of state coming together. We would hope that we can finalize that in Copenhagen,” Runge-Metzger said.

Runge-Metzger confirmed that, regarless of what transpires in Copenhagen, the E.U. plans to move forward with the implementation of policies to reduce European greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

That target is far lower than the 40 percent or more reduction demanded by Africa and the G-77 developing nations.

“Their [African and G-77] demands on developed countries to make deep emissions cuts, I don’t think that this gulf will be closed in the next week,” Runge-Metzger said.

Sudanese delegate Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, who heads the G-77-plus-China block, confirmed Thursday that Africa and the G-77 remain steadfast in their position that a so-called “politically binding agreement” is an unacceptable result in Copenhagen.

“We are totally against that,” he told me in the hallway of the Barcelona convention shortly after the G-77 cancelled its daily press conference in what Lumumba described as an “unfortunate” move based on a “joint decision” by the G-77 not to speak with the press at present. 

If a legally binding agreement cannot emerge from Copenhagen, then “we resolve to continue the negotiations in the future,” Lumumba said.

But Africa and the G-77 developing countries refuse to entertain anything less than a legally binding treaty. The African and G-77 delegations want a treaty that commits developed nations to reduce emissions by 40 percent or more below 1990 levels by the year 2020, a level which Africa feels is necessary to avoid death and destruction in vulnerable areas.

With the news that all bets are off on reaching a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen, delegates and observers in Spain are left wondering what could have been if the U.S. had acted sooner domestically. The U.S. Congress has failed the world, and developing nations will pay a steep price unless President Obama can personally rescue the Copenhagen talks.

That will depend on whether he even shows up in Denmark in December. Sorry Africa, don’t hold your breath.