Copenhagen climate conference ends with "meaningful agreement"

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a morning plenary session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Image: Pete Souza.

President of the United States Barack Obama has announced that wealthy and developing nations have reached what he called a "meaningful agreement" at the UN Climate Change Conference. The announcement came in the final hours of two weeks of tough negotiations, but fell far short of what some had hoped for.

Agreement came late in the evening and after a day of intense negotiations.

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President Obama announced what he called a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough. "For the first time in history all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change," he said.

Negotiations stalled amid differences over mitigation efforts by cutting greenhouse gas emissions; verification; and funding.

That formed the core of discussions, said Mr. Obama. "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," he said.

Obama sat down with the leaders of developing countries at a multilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and South African President Jacob Zuma.

The agreement requires countries to list actions they will take to cut gas emissions by specific amounts and allows for verification.

Obama noted in his speech, "And that's where we agreed to list our national actions and commitments, to provide information on the implementation of these actions through national communications, with international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines." Obama also added that the leaders "agreed to set a mitigation target to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and importantly, to take action to meet this objective consistent with science."

Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who acted on behalf of the Group of 77 of developing nations blasted the agreement and the 2 degree mark stating to reporters, "The developed countries have decided that damage to developing countries is acceptable." On the 2-degree mark he stated the mark would "result in massive devastation to Africa and small island states." Mr. Di-Aping and various representatives of the most most vulnerable countries wanted a target of 1.5 degrees.

Cquote1.svg 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. Cquote2.svg

—US President Barack Obama

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it a good first step, but said a binding treaty must follow. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also called it a first step and urged more action.

President Obama acknowledged that as well, saying this progress had not come easily, and alone is not enough. "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," he said.

The agreement is a far cry from what environmentalists and developing nations had called for. They wanted a legally binding treaty with much more specific commitments.

Some environmental groups criticized the agreement. Kim Carstensen of the World Wildlife Fund spoke of a non-deal that is not fair and does not meet the demands of the developing world. "It's been cooked up by a number of big countries in a closed room, without any transparency, without any civil society engagement in this building (the conference), without much engagement of the vulnerable countries," she said.

Climate talks are to continue. Germany is to call a meeting on the issue in the coming months and a climate change summit is also expected to be held in Mexico within the coming year.



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