Rumors, Intimation, and, Eventually, a Deal

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: Denmark’s most widely sought-after exports this week, at least until several minutes ago, were intimation and rumor.

World leaders have been locked in negotiation on the second floor of the Bella Center, trying to strike a political “Copenhagen Accord,” various drafts of which (confirmed or unconfirmed) have circulated for the past several hours. Confusion has reigned: Journalists filing quick observations over Twitter have reported in the last half hour that an Obama press conference is imminent; is not happening; will occur in an hour; will not occur in an hour; will occur after a two-minute warning at some point soon; and is not happening. Lisa Friedman and Darren Samuelsohn of Greenwire file this color-filled and informative piece via the New York Times. [Update: The press conference occurred at 4:30 pm U.S. Eastern time.]

Confusion reigned until word started leaking out, moments ago, that the leaders and negotiators have set down a political agreement. Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones writes that a Brazilian spokesman confirmed “that [President] Lula has left, but says that there is a deal and they are happy.” Moments later, a U.S. official told the Associated Press that negotiators had reached a “meaningful agreement” with China, India, and South Africa–the so-called BASIC countries, minus Brazil.

Conversation Accelerates–Transparently: Scrutiny of the U.S.-China dialogue intensified Friday, as world leaders remained locked in talks. President Barack Obama’s eight-minute address to the conference appeared neither to inspire nor offer new grist for negotiators. He and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met privately twice. The final agreement was wrenched out of bilateral and multilateral meetings, the last one lasting five hours and including Obama, Wen, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and South African President Jacob Zuma.

The national leaders spent Friday groping for a political agreement that contains three elements of major significance: pledged emission reductions; money; and international transparency–the “buzzword du jour,” or what the 2007 Bali “roadmap” called measurement, reporting, and verification, according to Nicholas Institute Director Tim Profeta writing on the “Good COP/Bad COP” blog. (Check it out: War is too important to be left to the generals, and, increasingly, journalism is too important to be left to the media–particularly as journalism evacuates the media.) Prasad Kasibhatla, associate professor at the Nicholas School for the Environment, documents the Copenhagen endgame here.

U.S. pressure on China to agree to transparent accounting of its emissions dominated discussion in U.S. media today. As Obama told the COP-15 audience this morning, “[W]e must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and exchange this information in a transparent manner. These measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty. They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible, and that we’re living up to our obligations. Without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page.”

Going into the final day of talks, the hall swollen with global political leaders and their entourages, uncertainty and fractures dominated, until news, without details, finally trickled out in the last hour. China watcher Julian Wong, at Green Leap Forward, first noticed progress in the two leaders’ public remarks that other observers either missed or did not see, and the World Resources Institute reports that the drama isn’t as dramatic as media depictions.

The Week That Was–Finance: If the run-up to and the first week and a half of COP-15 felt like watching a Go match played back in slow motion, the last 18 hours are the multilateral-environment negotiation equivalent–if there is one–to the last two minutes of an NCAA basketball tournament.

Following coverage in Copenhagen has been a little bit like trying to take a sip of water from Mardalsfossen, in Denmark’s northern neighbor. ClimatePost pushed publication to today to include as current a view as possible before the weekend.

Hours before Obama flew to Copenhagen, negotiators struggled to agree on some of the most divisive issues in international climate policy. Progress came emerged after the talks descended into despair Wednesday night. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Thursday morning a U.S. commitment to help build a $100 billion annual fund for developing countries by 2020, provided the largest emitters among them take on internationally verifiable emissions cuts. Previously, Senator John Kerry–chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-leader of two legislative initiatives–told the conference that the fate of the U.S. bill teeters on COP-15: “Frankly, meeting that challenge early next spring can be significantly assisted by what is achieved here.” In his remarks, Kerry also performed the possibly unprecedented rhetorical feat of referring to former Vice President Dick Cheney and Inspector Clouseau in successive sentences.

News= What’s Reported Before Anything Happens: Over the last two weeks  we’ve seen developing nations outraged and surprised over a secretive “Danish draft” agreement that some had seen the week before. We’ve seen vivid street protests, tens of thousands marching for various goals and causes, and hundreds of arrests. African nations shut down negotiations for three hours on Monday, upset that the Kyoto Protocol framework might be in jeopardy, in a story that melted as quickly as it appeared. Thousands who traveled to the Danish capital from around the world found themselves locked out of the Bella Center because organizers, for lack of a better word, registered nearly 45,000 people, when the complex holds just 15,000. A document attributed to U.N. officials published by the Guardian analyzed pre-Copenhagen national pledges and found they miss the global 2 degree C warming limit by a wide mark.

Those are the things we talked about until we learn what, exactly has happened. Here was the general landscape going into Friday.

Developing nations feared that without aggressive U.S. participation, COP-15 could turn into “Hamlet, without the Prince of Denmark,” ie, the main character. The Obama administration’s nod toward a $100 million climate fund on Thursday, met with a welcome absence of howling outrage from China, India, and others. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who leads the African Group, had already given a nod to a $50 billion to $100 billion annual funding scheme. Developing nations, notably Indonesia, have heard the U.S. plea for transparency. The Washington Post‘s Juliet Eilperin summarizes the distance left to travel by putting these two statements together:

Clinton: “One hundred billion dollars is a lot. It can have tangible effects.”

Jairam Ramesh, Indian minister of environment and forests: “A hundred billion is never enough, but it’s a small step.”

The Future–Emissions Reductions: With a nominal deal in the bag placing no binding demands on the U.S., the conversation will return to the Senate–once they pass health care and financial reform–which will be the ultimate arbiter of U.S. emission goals.

ClimatePost will be off the next two weeks for Christmas and New Year’s. Watch this space in 2010.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist.

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