Obama Says No Sweeping Global Climate Agreement this Year

The UN climate talks in Copenhagen aren’t until next month, but President Obama and other world leaders voiced this weekend what many have suspected for several weeks now: The much-hyped meetings aren’t going to yield a breakthrough binding global agreement to address climate change. Instead, leaders are now talking about designing a template for a future agreement.

When President Obama took office, he promised sweeping changes in the country’s approach to combating rising temperatures, vowing that after eight years of inaction by the Bush administration, under his tenure the US would lead the fight. It hasn’t worked out that way (though the Obama administration has made strides in pushing energy efficiency and clean tech). The House passed a climate bill this past June, but the Senate isn’t likely to take up the legislation until after the Copenhagen conference. Without a firm commitment in place from the worlds two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the US and China, other nations are hesitant to make strict efforts to slash climate-altering gases.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told university students in Manila, Philippines, that “the Obama administration would push instead for a strong ‘framework agreement’ that could become a template for an eventual enforceable pact,” the AP reports. She added that the Obama administration remained committed to a "global legally binding climate agreement and will continue working vigorously with the international community towards that end." But she stressed that "a final deal will not necessarily come quickly or easily."

The New York Times reports that President Obama “expressed support on Sunday for a proposal from Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark to pursue a two-step process at the Copenhagen conference.

Under the plan, the 192 nations convening in the Danish capital would formulate a nonbinding political agreement calling for reductions in global warming emissions and aid for developing nations to adapt to a changing climate. The group would also promise to work to put together a binding global pact in 2010, complete with firm emissions targets, enforcement mechanisms and specific dollar amounts to aid poorer nations. “We must in the coming weeks focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible,” Mr. Rasmussen said in Singapore, making clear he would prefer to lock in the progress that has been made to date and not postpone action until countries are prepared to accept legally-binding commitments.

Across the pond, the Guardian reports that while the Denmark’s proposal would buy time for the US to pass climate legislation, allowing the Obama administration to bring a 2020 target and financing pledges to the table at a UN climate meeting mid-2010, “there are many other divisions between developed and developing nations that could prolong talks. It was unclear if China, the world's biggest emitter, and other developing countries supported the two-stage plan.”

It looks like the climate talks will be just that—a lot of talk, little much-needed action.

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