Obama, Leaders Scramble to Save Climate Talks

Dec. 18: President Obama walks off of Air Force One and into the snow at Copenhagen Airport. (AP)

Dec. 18: President Obama walks off of Air Force One and into the snow at Copenhagen Airport. (AP)

COPENHAGEN -- The U.N. climate talks were in serious disarray Friday, prompting President Barack Obama to upend his schedule and hold close-door talks with 19 other world leaders to work out a last-minute agreement on fighting global warming.

Delegates earlier blamed both the U.S. and China for the lack of a political agreement that Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and more than 110 other world leaders are supposed to sign within hours.

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking after the unscheduled meeting with Obama and the other leaders, said progress in the climate talks was being held back by China.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. president met with world leaders from China and Russia, both seen as key participants in the climate talks, as well as the heads of state from wealthy nations like Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany and those from developing countries like Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Colombia.

"Most of the leaders are still working out to produce a meaningful agreement to be adopted," Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama said.

The lack of a deal caused leaders to throw out the planned timetable for the final day of the two-week U.N. climate conference, with their informal talks delaying the opening of the regular session.

Broad disputes continued behind closed doors between wealthy nations and developing ones, delegates said -- the divide that from the start has dogged the two-week U.N. climate conference, which aimed to reach agreements on deeper reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming.

No agreed text had emerged as presidents and premiers were gathering at a Copenhagen convention hall, said Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren.

"It is now up to world leaders to decide," he said, suggesting they would be pressed to make last-minute decisions on the thrust of the climate declaration.

Carlgren, negotiating on behalf of the 27-nation European Union, blamed the morning's impasse on the Chinese for "blocking again and again," and on the U.S. for coming too late with an improved offer, a long-range climate aid program announced Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A leading African delegate, meanwhile, complained bitterly about the proposed declaration. "It's weak. There's nothing ambitious in this text," Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan, a leader of the developing nations bloc, said Friday.

Any agreement was expected, at best, to envision emissions-cutting targets for rich nations and billions for poor countries, but fall well short of the goal of a legally binding pact. If the political deal is done, it would still be seen by many as a setback, following two years of intense negotiations to agree on new emissions reductions and financial support for poorer nations.

China and the U.S., the world's largest carbon polluters, had sought to give the negotiations a boost on Thursday with an announcement and a concession.

Clinton said Washington would press the world to come up with a climate aid fund amounting to $100 billion a year by 2020, a move that was quickly followed by an offer from China to open its reporting on actions to reduce carbon emissions to international review.

That issue -- money to help poor nations cope with climate change and shift to clean energy -- seemed to be where negotiators at the 193-nation conference could claim most success. That text under discussion early Friday.

Pollution cuts and the best way to monitor those actions remained unresolved. And negotiators also didn't come to an agreement on an important procedural issue -- just what legal form a future deal would take.

Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate official, said early Friday that a political declaration needed to include a deadline for agreeing on a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, whose modest emission cuts for 37 industrialized nations expire in 2012. The U.S. rejects Kyoto and would be covered by a separate eventual agreement.

"You can reach an agreement here that sets out major political contours, a long-term goal, targets for industrialized countries, engagement by major developing countries, financing," he told The Associated Press. "But people will want to see a clear deadline that turns that into a legally binding instrument."

Delegates filtering out of the predawn discussions Friday sounded disappointed.

"It's a political statement, but it isn't a lot," said Chinese delegate Li Junhua.

"It would be a major disappointment. A political declaration would not guarantee our survival," said Selwin Hart, a delegate from Barbados speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, many of which are threatened by seas rising form global warming.

The conference has been plagued by growing distrust between rich and poor nations. Both sides blamed the other for failing to take ambitions actions to tackle climate change and bickered over a post-Kyoto legal framework. At one point, African delegates staged a partial boycott of the talks.

World leaders handed off the draft text of about three pages at about 3 a.m. local time to their ministers and they continued to work on it through the night. But by 5 a.m., negotiators from Mexico and the G-77 plus China said they were nowhere near agreement on the final document.

Clinton's announcement on funding was widely praised. Yoshiko Kijima, a senior Japanese negotiator, said it sent a strong signal by Obama "that he will persuade his own people that we need to show something to developing countries. I really respect that."

Carlgren, speaking for the EU, said Clinton added "political momentum" to the talks and India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh called it "a good step forward."

But none of the leaders at the summit offered to increase their emissions targets, which the United Nations has concluded would fall far short of what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Sudan's Lumumba said the agreement that was being worked on included a goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels, a ceiling a half-degree warmer than developing nations demand.

Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere have already increased global temperatures by 0.7 degrees C (1.3 degrees F) since the Industrial Age began the extensive burning of fossil fuels.

A U.N.-sponsored scientific panel says any further rise to above 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) more than preindustrial temperatures could lead to a catastrophic sea-level rise threatening islands and coastal cities, the die-off of many species of animals and plants, and damaging climate shifts to the agricultural economies of many countries.

An internal U.N. calculation, obtained by The Associated Press, said pledges made so far by both industrial and developing countries would mean a 3-degree Celsius (4.8-degree Fahrenheit) temperature rise over preindustrial levels.