The United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen appeared Wednesday to be falling victim to a standoff between the United States and China, with observers starting to voice fears that already-low expectations for the conference will not be met.
The conference is scheduled to conclude Friday soon after President Obama and more than 100 other world leaders arrive, but little progress was evident in closed-door negotiations between rich and poor nations.
“We can probably characterize the process as continuing to be somewhat chaotic and fractured,” said Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International, added, “After two weeks of volatile and pretty acrimonious negotiations - two years of work - it looks like they are still up in the air.”
David Turnbull, director of the Climate Action Network-International, said the talks were “in crisis.”
They and other advocates for a global agreement held out hope for a last-minute breakthrough. The conference could be extended for a day or longer if talks appear promising, but that prospect had not been raised officially.
The conference is expected to reach a few relatively minor agreements. They include a $3.5 billion pledge from the United States and five other industrialized nations to help poor countries preserve rain forests. Developed countries are also expected to set up a short-term fund of about $10 billion annually through 2012 to help poor nations develop “green” energy sources and adapt to climate changes. A deal also could include a deadline for a binding treaty next year, observers said.
Last month, the conference was publicly downgraded from an effort to write a binding treaty to one that would merely set goals that could form the basis for a new treaty next year. Copenhagen was then billed as a forum to write a political agreement that included country-by-country actions to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, and to put into motion transfers of aid and technology to the developing nations.
But even that limited set of goals was thrown into doubt because of bickering among the main players. The U.S. delegation made clear that Mr. Obama had no plans to increase his offer to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, despite pressure from other countries to do so. At the same time, China, the No. 1 emitter of carbon dioxide, said it would not agree to international monitoring of its plans to slow the growth of emissions as the U.S. and other countries have insisted.
The disagreements between the two delegations got so heated that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday for them to stop pointing fingers and to do more to make the conference a success.
Environmentalists, who are eager for an ambitious accord, lashed out at delegations from both countries. James P. Leape, director general of the World Wildlife Fund International, accused the U.S. negotiator, Todd Stern, of “descending into legal wrangling” and the Chinese delegation of avoiding transparency in its emissions pledges.
Mr. Diringer said he saw little chance, in the end, that the U.S., China and the European Union would offer anything more than they pledged before conference started last week. “I don’t expect to see very significant movement in the interim agreement that’s reached here,” he said.
Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace said Mr. Obama risks appearing to have undermined the conference if the U.S. does not broker a deal between the major developed and developing countries.
“If the U.S. continues to engage these discussions the way it has over the last couple of days, it runs the risk of being seen as the country that brought these negotiations to their knees,” he said.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to the conference Wednesday to assure delegates that Congress will pass a climate and energy bill next year, action that Mr. Obama said forms the basis for his proposals to the summit.
Mr. Kerry suggested that the legislation’s fate hinges on the willingness of China to agree to verification of its emissions policies. The Senate rejected the Kyoto Protocol because it did not cover developing nations, and senators from both parties have said they will not vote for domestic greenhouse gas reductions if China and India do not also act on climate change.
“Critical to long-term financing is a guarantee that people are going to be transparent and accountable for what they say they are going to do. That’s an essential component for passage of legislation in the Senate next year,” he said.