Perhaps the most positive thing that can be confidently said about the Copenhagen meeting at this stage is that everyone agrees there is more to be done. A non-binding agreement between the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, negotiated in a four-hour meeting between the countries’ leaders, has caused confusion and provoked a mixed response from other countries.
Certainly, no-one is saying that the agreement goes far enough. Although there was progress on monitoring of emissions reductions and financing, the actual emissions commitments so far are not sufficient to reach the agreed target of limiting warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, which scientists suggest is probably the limit of safety.
[A word on the agreement itself: while the gist can be gleaned from officials' comments, several texts purporting to the be real thing have been circulating in Copenhagen. We will publish the correct text when confirmed.]
Although Mr Obama departed immediately for Washington after ending the meeting and taking questions from the press, EU officials initially pointed out the agreement was not finalised, perhaps because they were not involved.
The EU later said it supported the agreement, but Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said the accord was a positive step, but one which “falls far short of our expectations”.
The big question is whether a legally binding agreement can come out of this. Mr Obama played down the importance of a binding agreement in his press briefing, but this issue is viewed as crucial by many countries.
Lumumba Da-Ping, the Sudanese leader who heads the G77 group of developing countries, was more critical, saying it was “an idea, not a deal”, and pointing out that an international agreement would require the support of all 192 countries to become legally binding.
“If any country rejects the deal, then there is no deal,” he told reporters. “Sudan will not be a signatory to a deal that destroys Africa.”
Meanwhile Chinese officials were not available to comment, according to the New York Times, which also has an amusing account of Mr Obama ‘bursting into’ a meeting meeting between China, Brazil, India and South Africa – leading to the loose agreement between the five countries. Other sources, the story notes, said Mr Obama’s presence at the meeting was scheduled.
Environmental group leaders have been widely quoted as expressing disappointment with the outcome, with one calling Copenhagen ‘a crime scene‘. Perhaps the most positive view expressed by NGOs was that – you guessed it – there was much more to be done.
And what about businesses who were looking for strong signals on carbon prices? PriceWaterhouseCooper’s climate change team said it was a relief to have any deal done at all, particularly one involving China, India and South Africa – but that businesses wanted more certainty over the scale and speed of investments that would be required to meet climate targets.
But Robert Stavins, who directs Harvard University’s Project on International Climate Agreements, told the Christian Science Monitor that the agreement marked the first time in any major international negotiations that heads of state “pushed the bureaucrats out of the way” to craft a deal, which “speaks volumes about the importance the leaders put on the issue”.
As Andrew Ward writes in the FT, agreement on curbing and monitoring emissions from the major developing countries could make it easier to get legislation passed in the US – an important step towards actually reducing global emissions.
The UN meanwhile is currently holding a plenary meeting, and a press conference is expected at its conclusion.