Reporting from Copenhagen
A new global warming pact, heralded by U.S. President Barack Obama as "an important milestone" and considered a done deal late Friday night, unraveled in the wee hours of Saturday morning, even though the world's biggest carbon polluters supported it.
The U.S. president had landed in snow-covered Copenhagen around 9 a.m. Friday, joining the tail end of critical two-week climate talks to help break a deadlock and broker a deal.
At 10:30 p.m. Friday, after 12 hours of intense negotiations, Obama declared to the world that the UN had agreed to a "Copenhagen Accord," a new framework to drive a truly global climate change in 2010 that would cover all nations on Earth.
It was backed by the world's four major emerging economies, China, Brazil, India and South Africa.
"Today, we've made meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen," Obama said. "I am confident we are moving in the right direction of a significant accord."
The impression from his announcement was that a global warming deal had been struck, finally.
"Throughout the day, we worked with many countries to establish a new consensus around these three points, a consensus that will serve as a foundation for global action to confront the threat of climate change for years to come," the U.S. president said.
The key pieces of the "Copenhagen Accord" deal included: an acknowledgment of the need to hold temperature increases to below 2 degrees; targets by rich nations to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 2020; immediate fast-start financing of $30 billion over 3 years from the rich countries; and a long-term financing goal of $100 billion by 2020.
Soon after midnight, after Obama had left for Washington, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chief negotiator for the G77 plus China bloc of developing nations, brought the talks to a crisis, declaring to reporters that the deal was dead, and that his nation of Sudan would not support an "unfair deal."
An agreement requires yes votes from all of the 193 nations.
Di-Aping said, "the events present the worst development of climate change negotiations in history."
"What has happened today confirms what we have been suspicious of: that a deal be superimposed by United States with the help of the Danish government on all nations of the world," he said.
Tuvalu and other members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), who say rising sea levels threatens to wipe them off the map, had pushed for a Copenhagen deal that would limit the average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The target was absent from the final document.
At the plenary session Saturday morning, Ian Fry, chief negotiator of the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu, said: "I regret to inform you that Tuvalu cannot accept this document."
Fry condemned President Obama's announcement of a deal before the UN process was completed, calling it "negotiation by media."
Bolivia also came out against the accord, saying it was "offended" by the way the agreement was announced. It "doesn't respect almost two years of work" and is "representative of a small group that believes it has the political authority to impose this document on us."
Venezuela, Cuba, Costa Rica and Nicaragua also voiced opposition early Saturday morning.
When the conference's president, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, called for a show of hands from countries opposed, he counted at least four, including a vocal Venezuela. It was clear then, he said, that the proposed accord would not be officially adopted.
Around 50 nations, including countries of the EU, had formally supported it as of 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Together, they represent more than 80 percent of the world's global warming emissions.
But not one of the supporters was willing to say the accord was adequate to address climate change on its own, including the United States.
"We know that this progress alone is not enough," Obama said. "Going forward, we're going to have to build on the momentum that we've established here in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time. We've come a long way, but we have much further to go."
José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said: "I will not hide my disappointment. ... It is clearly a positive step, but it need many more steps in the future."
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said: "This accord is far from what we expected and what the world needs."
Representatives of the island states of Grenada, Papua New Guinea and the Maldives also spoke up. All indicated they were unhappy with the lack of substance in the proposed accord, but they felt action was necessary now, and for that reason, they supported the effort. The speaker for Papua New Guinea blamed negotiators with the G77 for removing hard numbers from the draft and hobbling the process.
Even the most disheartened negotiators are now looking to the future. The next scheduled Conference of Parties, COP16, is set for Mexico City in late 2010.
"We do believe there is the opportunity to correct all this in the negotiations in the next six to 12 months," Di-Aping said.
UPDATE: Late Saturday morning, nations at the plenary session agreed to "take note" of the Copenhagen Accord, but they did not have the votes to officially adopt it. The move means countries can voluntarily accept the standards in the accord but it won't be codified in international law. "We need to turn this agreement into a legally binding treaty," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters. "I will work with world leaders over the coming months to make this happen."
(Photo: Obama and Wen, White House/Pete Souza)