COPENHAGEN -- International climate talks have reached a boiling point.
Voices big and small are weighing in on the negotiations, including more than 100,000 protesters who clogged streets over the weekend here and in other major city centers calling for countries to strike a strong deal. Ministers from around the globe have also arrived, working through the weekend in small groups behind closed doors.
By Friday, President Obama and about 115 other world leaders -- a number exceeded only by the annual U.N. General Assembly -- will gather for a single purpose: to put their mark on the international global warming negotiations.
"The world is watching climate change in a way I don't think it ever has before," Ed Miliband, the climate secretary for the United Kingdom, told reporters today.
The Danish hosts are rolling out the red carpet for the presidents and prime ministers, with a Thursday dinner scheduled with the queen of Denmark and a giant "family photo." They will also find time to talk about other issues, from Afghanistan to the global economy.
Still, the purpose is to try to find a new agreement that takes the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which bound only industrialized countries to reduce emissions, to another level. Not all the details will be worked out by the time the summit ends Friday. But leaders are putting their names on the line. U.N. Climate chief Yvo de Boer said he expects talks to progress rapidly when leaders arrive.
"I think we're queuing up the cable car, and the rest of the ride is going to be fast and smooth," he said.
Others were far less optimistic.
"There are still really many challenges there, still many unsolved problems," said Connie Hedegaard, the Danish president of the U.N. summit. "But I get the feeling as ministers start to arrive in Copenhagen, so does the political will."
Miliband said he wants to see ministers working early this week to knock back the vast majority of unresolved issues before the world leaders get to town starting on Wednesday.
"I think we collectively need to get our act together and move on," he said. "Big things can't be left to leaders. What we cannot do is leave a whole slew of issues for them. We need to get our act together and take action."
New wave of proposals expected
Another wave of text proposals is expected as early as tomorrow from the conference's Danish hosts and other U.N. leaders. But the key issues keeping countries apart remain vast. As of early Monday morning, African countries working with other developing nations were threatening to stall talks until certain debates are resolved.
First and foremost, there is the question of how far developed countries are willing to slash emissions over the next four decades, as well as the broader question of whether the world can keep temperatures from rising no more than 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels. In the opinion of the small island nations and other vulnerable countries, what has been proposed so far has not been enough.
Equally barbed is the problem of what fast-growing developing countries like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia will do to help avert climate change. So far, each of those countries has plans for slashing the growth of global warming pollution, but they flatly refuse to be held internationally accountable for their plans.
"That's a leading indicator of the bigger question about what does the new agreement look like," said Jim Connaughton, who served as the chairman of the White House Council of Environmental Quality under President George W. Bush. "At least as we enter next week, the divide seems to be growing and not shrinking."
And then there's money -- not enough of it, according to poor nations that expect upward of $100 billion to $200 billion each year through 2050 to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Industrialized nations have devised a $10 billion "fast-start" fund for immediate needs through 2012, but have sidestepped questions of how much long-term financing they will provide.
"There's no money on the planet, I've been told," said Bangladeshi scientist Atiq Rahman. "That is neither acceptable nor real."
What happens to the Kyoto Protocol?
Underlying the entire debate is the procedural but critical question: What will happen to Kyoto?
Small island nations and other poor countries are loath to release their hold on the 12-year-old treaty, which the United States never ratified. They are insisting upon developing a second commitment period for Kyoto and designing a new agreement for America and other countries that were not part of the original treaty. So far, they argue, it's the only legally binding instrument that exists to force countries to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"The killing of the Kyoto Protocol will mean the killing of Africa," said Mama Konate, the national meteorological director from Mali and a member of the West African country's negotiating team.
American and European leaders, meanwhile, continue to argue that Kyoto is insufficient. Because it doesn't require enough of fast-developing countries, they say, it will not deliver the reductions needed to keep global temperatures below a 2-degree-Celsius rise over preindustrial levels.
"If the agreement would be maintained, it wouldn't be what the Earth needs," said Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren, representing the European Union at the talks. Asked if Europe wants to "kill" Kyoto, he said, "It's not a killing. It's a saving."
Environmental groups have raised concerns about the prospect of "greenwashing" in the final U.N. agreement, especially if it includes deals that actually allow more emissions to go into the atmosphere.
Alden Meyer, international climate policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he was on the lookout for language that lets excess Russian and Ukrainian emissions count toward the global reduction goal, as well as provisions that ease rules on land-use changes, offsets and bunker fuel.
"This is an issue of credibility, transparency and believability in this process," he said. "We're going to be fighting very hard to keep these loopholes out of the decision at the end of the week."
Today, governments rushed to make new key announcements on clean energy. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the Obama administration would pitch in $85 million toward a new five-year, $350 million effort to spread the deployment of clean energy technologies to developing countries. Other countries pitching in funds include Australia and Italy.
Roster of heavyweight speakers in bulging hall
Meanwhile, the United Nations is starting to organize the lineup of high-profile speakers once leaders arrive. The roster is full of heavyweights, including Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Logistically, the arrival of so many world leaders and their entourages spells chaos. The Bella Center, where talks are being held, already is nearing its 15,000 capacity, and starting tomorrow, the United Nations will put quotas on the nongovernmental organizations and industry officials who can enter.
On the sidelines, former Vice President Al Gore speaks tomorrow afternoon. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) are here. The congressional delegation, meantime, is likely to shrink due to pending Senate debate on health care. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) will cross the Atlantic, Senate aides said. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) still hasn't finalized her travel plans.
President Obama arrives Friday and is expected to take the podium. Analysts said they doubt he can offer much more than the targets he has already proposed "in the range of" 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
"He's coming and there's a U.S. number on the table," said Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "I think he's gone as far as he can."
Yet expectations for Obama still remain high. "I think this clearly is a major indication of the commitment of the U.S. administration," said Rajendra Pachauri, the top U.N. climate scientist, said in an interview today. "I hope it results in an agreement that's strong and effective. I'd like to hear from him that he's standing by the commitment that he's announced. And that's not the end of the road. He's going to do much more to live up to the statement that the U.S. will lead."
But some developing country representatives warn that the international goodwill Obama engendered upon his election is fading fast.
Obama's arrival and the threat of a walkout
"He has not put any political capital into the climate change issue at all," said Saleem Huq, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change author and an advocate for vulnerable countries. "He might as well stay home and send the Senate if that's what he's going to do. What kind of a president is he if he's not going to negotiate for his country?"
Huq said that while African nations and some others are focusing intently on how much money they will get, small island nations like Tuvalu -- which held up the talks last week in an attempt to force the creation of a new panel to discuss a two-treaty deal -- are intent on making sure all countries take ambitious and legally binding targets.
Without that, he said, the largely poor and powerless nations are prepared to play "the only card they'll ever have": walking away from the talks, leaving Obama and other world leaders without a photo op and a victory speech.
The growing tension here is felt a long way beyond the conference hall. Akhilesh Surjan dutifully calls his mother in Bhopal, India, each night to assure her he is keeping warm in this frigid Danish city. His mother only reads local news, so Surjan said he was stunned when she asked about the climate summit.
"My dear son, negotiate hard. Please do something good for the world," she told him.
"I didn't have the heart to tell her I'm not a negotiator," said Surjan, an urban sustainability researcher observing the talks. "I said, 'OK, Mom, I'll do my best.'"
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