President Obama has ended weeks of speculation by finally announcing that he is going to Copenhagen. For that he has to be congratulated.
The fact that he is the first American President to attend the US climate meetings is also a positive step too (although it does not say much for his predecessors).
The additional fact that he will propose specific carbon reduction cuts is also a step forward. Obama will tell the delegates that the US intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.
But the million dollar question is whether that will be enough to force through a deal. And the answer to that is: No
And whether even if ther is a deal whether it will be enough. The answer to that is no too.
So let’s look at some of the details:
Actually Obama will only be in Copenhagen for one day on his way to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
And he will be there at the beginning of the negotiations not at the end, when the other heads of State are there. Most of the important decisions happen at the end.
Already the Swedish have expressed disappointment over Obama’s timing. He could have gone to Copenhagen after the Olso meeting and stayed until the bitter end.
The commitments Obama has come up with fall far short of what the science demands, and far short of what the EU is proposing.
Even then, Obama is betting that by making these commitments Congress will complete action on a climate bill next year and will be prepared to ratify an international agreement based on the commitment.
But that is far from certain. Especially now that legislation is bogged down in the Senate.
Moreover it now seems the best we can hope for is an interim political declaration that stops short of a binding international treaty.
A treaty is expected sometime next year or the year after. This is seen as far too late by many scientists.
Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations climate directorate, has also said that he wants Obama to pledge cash to help poorer nations adapt to a changing climate.
But this issue remains to be resolved too.
You could argue that Obama has only decided to go to Copenhagen once the expectations for the Summit have been watered down. If the Summit fails he can say he wasn’t involved enough , and if somehow if it succeeds he can take some of the credit.
As the New York Times says: “There’s little chance he could be blamed for failure, and every chance he could be credited for any breakthroughs.”
That’s good old fashioned politics for you: you never want to be depicted as the turkey always as the swan.
How fitting for Thanksgiving.