Climate: Deal or no deal?

COPENHAGEN We’ve got a climate accord, President Barack Obama said at a parting press conference tonight (at about 11 to 11:30 p.m.  local time, before leaving Denmark). Not so fast, argue a number of other negotiating blocs – groups that continue to work on the language of the latest draft of that so-called accord. Many sticking points remain. Observers say it could take many hours – perhaps through the night – before any real deal emerges.

Among those challenging the idea that a deal has been all but sealed here is Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping. Lumumba is also the chairman of the G77, a group of 77 developing nations that frequently vote together owing to similar economic interests.

Sudanese ambassador Lamumba challenges Obama
G77 LEADER MAKES NEWS Sudanese ambassador Lamumba challenges Obama “deal” in talk with reporters at informal post-midnight briefing. J. Raloff

Speaking at an impromptu briefing in the press room, a little after midnight, he said that “The deal remains an idea” – and little more. “If any single country, any single party to the convention, refuses the deal, then there’s no deal.” And he said that “Sudan will not be signatory to a deal that would destroy Africa,” which he contends the language in the current draft treaty risks doing.

The deal Obama said he had worked out with a number of major nations “represents the worst development in climate change negotiations — and history.” It’s undoubtedly hyperbole, but certainly gives a clue to how passionately he rejects the idea that the so-called accord will meet its goal, which is to limit a warming of Earth’s global average temperature to no more than 2 oC above what existed in preindustrial times. Among its problems, he notes that the language does not mandate massive, legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions nor does it guarantee a huge trust fund would be developed to help poor countries (like many G77 member states) adapt to climate change or mitigate its impacts. These had been major focal issues in talks leading up to the Copenhagen meeting.

As big a problem as he finds the current draft language, he also notes that “The failure of this summit is not yet certain.” In fact, he said, “I do believe that there is still an opportunity to correct all of these [problems in the draft accord] through negotiations in the next six to 12 months.”

There are a quite a few other voting blocs here that don’t want the negotiations to drag on beyond Copenhagen, which means this weekend.

So it still looks to be a long night of arduous attempts at compromise.

And me, after being in the press room for 19 hours…I’m going back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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