Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18th, 4:28 PM CET

NGO Forum

Around 8:30 this morning, Air Force One touched down in Copenhagen, beginning what many hoped would be the last, big push on the final day of COP15. President Obama's day began with select one-on-one ministerial meetings, including one with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jaibao. A later meeting between multiple ministers, however, resulted in a distinct snub as the Chinese vice foreign minister, He Yafei, was sent in the Prime Minister's stead to meet with heads of state. Rumor is that this is in response to Secretary Clinton's "Chinese proverb" quip yesterday, prodding China to cooperate, but this is unconfirmed.

The President's speech was brief, dry, and hardline - but not in a positive way. His message was that the United States has given everything it had to offer, and would not be giving any concessions. He did, however, acknowledge that the United States bears responsibility for climate change - a sticking point in the language of the negotiations between developed and developing countries.

He made no further concessions on emissions targets, sticking with, "cutting our emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020, and by more than 80 percent by 2050." One of his final lines - "We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, and we will do what we say" - sounded more like the 43rd President of the United States, not the 44th. (For more on why the more things change, the more they stay the same, check out this article from a fellow couch surfer at, and the Daily Kos article that inspired it.)

Deviations between the speech distributed to the media beforehand and what actually came out of the President's mouth speaks volumes to the lack of progress today. The first read, "There are those developing countries that want aid with no strings attached, AND NO OBLIGATIONS WITH REGARD TO TRANSPARENCY and who think that the most advanced nations should pay a higher price," with the change noted in bold. Though it was clearly a stab at China's reluctancy to accept MRV (monitor, report, and verify) measures, it seemed petty and out of place considering China's recent adoption of additional concessions. China has indicated it will agree to measures of transparency, though it is not clear what they may be. This remark could just as well have been aimed at China for their snub of the ministerial meeting earlier in the day.

The second should have read, "After months of talk, and two weeks of negotiations, I believe that the pieces of that accord are now clear," but instead finished with, "should now be clear," reflected the stagnation among leaders leading up to the President's address, instead of the quick resolution that was forecast.

There were no expectations that Obama would announce a surprise move, like Secretary Clinton's $100 billion bomb. The US is still very much bound by domestic politics. Though developing nations are still hoping for strong leadership from President Obama, the United States is definitely not putting anything else on the table than what they already have. With their will for a significant agreement eroding - the idea that it will be legally binding has already been scrapped - the United States seems like it has given up, and will punt anything binding to COP16. This is hardly the groundbreaking conference for which the world, owever futilely, had hoped.


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