Copenhagen Endgame: Will the World Get a Good Foundation For Progress or a Greenwash?


US Congressmen in Copenhagen (Alex Pasternack)

Temperatures are rising in the Bella Center, expectations are weak, and anger is stewing, as the clock winds down toward some kind of climate agreement. The conference-shaking finance pledge today seemed to put pressure back on China to commit to transparency, helped further fracture the developing nations bloc, and paved the way for a late-night meeting among G-20 leaders.

For now, they and the rest of the heads of state are at a dinner hosted by the Queen. They were joined by two protesters from Greenpeace, who unrolled a banner that read, "Politicians Talk Leaders Act." That sentiment was echoed widely by developing nations today -- along with the acknowledgement that the world would have to settle for a mediocre framework for moving forward. Indeed, as a leaked UN report details, the current proposals on the table would raise temperatures more than 3 degrees, one degree over the limit this conference was intended to achieve.Back-patting tomorrow is almost assured. So is finger-pointing, in the direction of those who blocked a good deal (hint: it's not the developing countries or China). Around the world, petitions are flying in the hopes that after an all-nighter of talks, Obama and others will sign a good-faith foundation, one that the world can use to make a climate deal next time around, and not a greenwash.

Green Light for REDD
The REDD system for using developed nation offsets to reduce deforestation in developing countries will likely be enshrined in an agreement tomorrow. Though financing was being worked out -- with the United States pledging $1 billion as part of a $3.5 billion scheme -- there are concerns, including that protection in one forest won't lead to tree-cutting in others nearby.

China Softens Tone -- Maybe?
Meanwhile the US arrived in force -- basically all the heavy political climate hitters, minus Obama -- and they came out strong with the old American refrain: that China make its carbon cuts internationally-binding, allowing those cuts to be measured, reported and verified. When Japan joined the US's 100 billion fund promise with its own hefty financial pledge ($11 billion), the pressure only ratcheted up.

That pressure may have led to a more conciliatory tone by China. The Chinese vice foreign minister He Yafei spoke this afternoon, delivering a message from Premier Wen Jiabao, to the effect that while China would not agree to internationally-binding cuts, it would "be willing to enhance and improve the ways of national communication," and implement "international exchanges." Whatever that means beyond current US-China agreements forged by Obama and Hu last month in Beijing wasn't explained, per typical Beijing vagueness. But, He said, "the purpose of course is to enhance transparency." He added, "We are also willing to have explnations and clarifications if need be."

But despite the warm talk of sincerity and commitment, China remained focused on protecting its sacred "national sovereignty." If the US and China can tackle both that interest and America's concerns about accountability, they could walk away with a provisional agreement that allows for details to be sorted out later.

"To increase mutual trust is extremely important," said Wen, via foreign minister He. "We should not go for suspicion or confrontation. We should go for cooperation."

Other Questions
The developed world financing offer -- cash for China's developing nation brethren (China says it doesn't need climate aid) in exchange for China's accountability -- was only the biggest of a number of concerns today. Will the major emitters commit to bigger cuts (US, they're all looking at you), will the agreement establish a limit for the expected global temperature rise, and how will any coming deal be made legally-binding?

NGOs Frustrated But Unified
If some are sanguine that Copenhagen will end up with a formal agreement, hope and certainly contentment are nowhere to be found. Protests have raged for the past two days, marked as much by the frustrations over a shabby deal as by the aggression of the Danish police. And NGOs are fuming over being blocked from the conference in its critical last two days.

Anger and resentment aside, right now one of the best legacies of Copenhagen may lie in talks happening around the conference amongst civil society. Never have so many young people come together from around the world to discuss climate change, and never have they been more coordinated.

They've accused world leaders of putting words over action, but the words these NGOs are now exchanging in late-night meetings will be essential to keeping the pressure on tomorrow, and renewing much-needed energy around the climate change fight.

And Now
To be sure, the sight of leaders, youth, civil society groups and media from 120 nations coming together to talk about and rally against climate change, in a forum charged with more political and social significance than any in recent memory, is an achievement alone.

But any agreement will be a serious compromise, and a major disappointment given what might have been achieved. When the text emerges on Friday evening, the world -- and especially the groups that have worked so hard to make Copenhagen such a crucial event -- will be charged with sorting out what it means, and figure out how to turn the agreement and its failings into real progress next year.

They'll need to be fast, and they're determined to be. Time is not only running out at Copenhagen, but on our chance to make a generational change that will save the planet.

Tags: China | Copenhagen

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