Today is Part 4 of my "What's up with Copenhagen?" series, and it was going to provide some conjecture about whether or not Obama would go to the climate talks. But Obama beat me to the punch.
This morning his administration announced that Obama would indeed be attending the U.N. climate talks on Wednesday, Dec. 9 (the day before he receives his Nobel prize in Norway).
It must have been a tricky decision for Obama. Just last week he declared that there would be no deal in Copenhagen, but stated that the talks were important in order to establish a framework for a future deal to come in 2010. The following day a joint cooperative deal between the U.S. and China was announced, which in seeming contrast to the day before sent a positive signal to climate negotiators that the two superpowers were serious about tackling carbon emission reductions.
That leaves India. Together the U.S., China, and India make up more than half of the world's CO2 emissions, and until now the three nations have been wont to show any signs of the concessions they might be willing to make to get a deal through.
So it can't be a coincidence that Obama's announcement about going to Copenhagen comes the day after a high-level meeting between the president and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited with Obama yesterday at the White House. The outcome of the meeting was another groundbreaking joint announcement — that the two super-polluting nations would work together to combat climate change.
Vagaries aside, in "diplomacy speak" this was an important signal to the heads of state who will be descending upon Copenhagen in mid-December. Now the biggest carbon nations — the U.S., China and India — all seem to be on board with albeit behind-the-scenes agreements to play nice at Copenhagen. This means the other nations will have more solid diplomatic ground to walk on, rather than the billowy clouds of inference they have had to deal with in the past.
I can't imagine the relief COP15 organizers are feeling right now. But how are climate activists feeling about it? The reaction seems mixed.
While everyone is thrilled he is actually attending, a first for a U.S. president, they are concerned that his presence will serve more of a rhetorical purpose than a political one. Obama will be present only for a day of the "preliminary" week of negotiations. The World Wildlife Fund expressed "hope" that he will return the second week if a deal is at hand.
Similarly 1Sky expressed concern over the low number Obama may bring to the talks (estimated by the LA Times to be in the order of a 17 percent reduction by 2020):
A 17 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, as the administration indicated that they would seek in Copenhagen, is simply not enough. The planet has little time to waste right now. Without an implementation of strong short-term targets and a legally binding international treaty to guarantee that those cuts happen, it will become increasingly difficult to guarantee that even strong measures we take against global warming will have any effect.
In the series...
I'll be heading for Copenhagen soon, and you can follow my tweets from the negotiating chamber @greendig.