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Many Goals Remain Unmet in Climate Deal

By John Broder, New York Times - December 19, 2009

COPENHAGEN — President Obama announced here on Friday night that five major nations, including the United States, had together forged a climate deal. He called it “an unprecedented breakthrough” but acknowledged that it still fell short of what was required to combat global warming.

Recent developments on the politics of global warming with background, analysis, timelines and earlier events from NYTimes.com and Google.

President Obama noted that the agreement was merely a political statement and not a legally binding treaty and might not need ratification by the entire conference.

The agreement addresses many of the issues that leaders came here to settle. But it has left many of the participants in the climate talks unhappy, from the Europeans, who now have the only binding carbon control regime in the world, to the delegates from the poorest nations, who objected to being left out of the critical negotiations.

By the early hours of Saturday, representatives of the 193 countries who have negotiated here for nearly two weeks had not yet approved the deal and there were signs they might not. But Mr. Obama, who left before the conference considered the accord because of a major storm descending on Washington, noted that the agreement was merely a political statement and not a legally binding treaty and might not need ratification by the entire conference.

The three-page accord that Mr. Obama negotiated with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa and then presented to the conference did not meet even the modest expectations that leaders set for this meeting, notably by failing to set a 2010 goal for reaching a binding international treaty to seal the provisions of the accord.

Nor does the plan firmly commit the industrialized nations or the developing nations to firm targets for midterm or long-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The accord is nonetheless significant in that it codifies the commitments of individual nations to act on their own to tackle global warming.

“For the first time in history,” Mr. Obama said, “all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.”

The accord provides a system for monitoring and reporting progress toward those national pollution-reduction goals, a compromise on an issue over which China bargained hard. It calls for hundreds of billions of dollars to flow from wealthy nations to those countries most vulnerable to a changing climate. And it sets a goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2050, implying deep cuts in climate-altering emissions over the next four decades.

But it was an equivocal agreement that was, to many, a disappointing conclusion to a two-year process that had the goal of producing a comprehensive and enforceable action plan for addressing dangerous changes to the global climate. The messy compromise mirrored the chaotic nature of the conference, which virtually all participants said had been badly organized and run.

In a news conference, Mr. Obama said the accord was only a tentative start down a long road.

“This progress did not come easily,” he said, “and we know that this progress alone is not enough.”

The accord sets no goal for concluding a binding international treaty, which leaves the implementation of its provisions uncertain. It is likely to undergo many months, perhaps years, of additional negotiations before it emerges in any internationally enforceable form.

Mr. Obama said before he left Copenhagen that he was confident that a final accord would be reached here. He looked weary and his eyes were bloodshot as he left the conference center for his motorcade to the airport.

Some environmental groups gave a cautious nod of approval to the agreement as a good start.

“The world’s nations have come together and concluded a historic — if incomplete — agreement to begin tackling global warming,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. “Tonight’s announcement is but a first step and much work remains to be done in the days and months ahead in order to seal a final international climate deal that is fair, binding and ambitious. It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible.”

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of the Senate’s climate change bill, said the accord would drive the Congress to pass climate change legislation early next year.

“This can be a catalyzing moment,” he said. “President Obama’s hands-on engagement broke through the bickering and sets the stage for a final deal and for Senate passage this spring of major legislation at home."

But there were serious rumblings of discontent that could yet scuttle the deal.

Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who has been representing the Group of 77 developing countries, denounced the accord.

Reporting was contributed by Andrew C. Revkin, Elisabeth Rosenthal, Tom Zeller Jr., James Kanter and Helene Cooper.

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