- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

Representatives from nearly 200 nations will gather Monday in the Danish capital of Copenhagen for what is supposed to be the completion of a landmark international treaty to combat global warming.

The event will go off as planned, but the goal will likely be unattainable because of divisions between rich and poor nations over how much they can reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and how much they must pay to do so.

The conference, organized by the United Nations, is scheduled to conclude Dec. 18 with the outline for an accord made up of pledges for various levels of emissions cutbacks by President Obama and the leaders of other countries.

Those promises will form the basis for more talks in advance of another conference next year, at which U.N. officials hope to produce a binding treaty that would take effect in 2013.

Hopes of an even grander breakthrough in Copenhagen were kindled Friday when the White House announced that Mr. Obama will attend the summit at its conclusion, rather than at the beginning as he had planned.

The schedule change came after China and India - two of the world’s largest polluters - said they would offer specific pledges in Copenhagen to restrain their greenhouse-gas emissions, a promise the U.S. and other developed nations had long sought.

John Podesta, president of the liberal Center for American Progress, called the president’s decision to attend at the end “a game changer.” He added: “Commitments to reduce carbon intensity by both China and India have produced a burst of momentum in advance of next week’s U.N. summit in Copenhagen.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also said that an “emerging consensus” that wealthy nations should provide $10 billion a year by 2012 to help developing nations deal with climate change could provide the basis for a breakthrough.

Nonetheless, experts still expect something short of a complete treaty to emerge. David Hawkins, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he expects a document to be produced that will set ground rules for the drafting of a binding treaty later.

“The work program [generated at Copenhagen] will be to produce a legal agreement that reflects those instructions,” he said. Given the limited goal of the summit, he said, “they’re not asking for the impossible.”

The NRDC and other environmental groups think the conference will be seen as a historic turning point. They have said a deal of any kind in Copenhagen would all but guarantee that world leaders will produce a successor to the current international climate treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto treaty, written in 1997, was never ratified by the U.S. Senate. This time, the outcome would probably be different, experts say, because China and India have said they are willing to slow the pace of their emissions growth, something they declined to do a decade ago.

Environmental groups contend that the proposal Mr. Obama will present at Copenhagen - to cut U.S. emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050 - will break the stalemate between developed and developing nations.

The developing nations want no hard limit on the amount of carbon dioxide they can emit, but do want developed countries to pay them billions of dollars to fund clean-air technology and forest-preservation programs. Developed countries, such as the U.S., are pushing for universal caps on emissions and are reluctant to pay as much as the developing nations want.

Democrats and their allies are optimistic. “I expect that what will come out of Copenhagen is a framework for a deal and a clear sign that the rest of the world is in fact going to be taking action if the U.S. takes action,” said Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “I expect Congress to take action and then there will be a global deal.”

The White House announced Friday that Mr. Obama would attend the final day of the summit on Dec. 18, when other world leaders will also attend, a decision it said “reflects the president’s commitment to doing all that he can to pursue a positive outcome.” He previously planned to attend the conference briefly during the largely ceremonial first week, en route to Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10.

His last-minute decision to attend in person, announced two weeks ago, may have helped to prompt greenhouse-gas proposals from India and China.

Both countries, which are major carbon-dioxide emitters, say they will slow their greenhouse-gas production by perhaps significant amounts - a new concession that has led to hope of a treaty down the road.

Opponents of Mr. Obama’s plan to force mandatory cuts in domestic greenhouse-gas emissions will attend the conference as well. The most notable of these will be the Senate’s leading skeptic of man-made global warming, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

Mr. Inhofe will be there to make his long-standing argument that any deal that does not impose binding caps on pollution from developing nations, primarily China, would hurt the U.S. economy and doom a treaty’s prospects in the Senate.

“Obama is going to go over and try to make a commitment that the U.S. Senate simply will not go along with,” said Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been outspoken against emissions cap-and-trade plans in pending climate legislation, will attend as well. Stephen Eule, a vice president of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said he will work against trade tariffs and push for binding emission-reduction targets.

The conference is expected to play a pivotal role in the outcome of Senate legislation, which has stalled. A group of nine moderate Democratic senators has called on Mr. Obama to win commitments from developing nations to limit their greenhouse-gas emissions to a level that reduces global emissions by 50 percent by 2050. They also said Mr. Obama must not surrender the right of the U.S. to impose import tariffs on goods from nations that do not limit their emissions.

Despite the lowered expectations, the summit could still produce immediate action to help poor countries prepare for the consequences of warmer global temperatures, such as higher sea levels, severe droughts and torrential rainfall.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said last week that the summit will be a success if the attendees not only agree to greenhouse-gas reduction targets, but also if developed nations initially pledge $10.5 billion a year for international climate aid to poor nations.

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