Awaiting the Obama, Wen Climate Effect

Dozens of journalists, diplomats and other observers crowded the front of the Bella Center, awaiting the arrival of limos and Mercedes and vans bringing the U.S. president and other world leaders here. On TV panels around the center, people watched Air Force One touch down on Danish soil.

Another scrum of reporters was focused on the central convention offices, where the Danish delegation was holding court, coordinating the drafting of a political text for leaders to agree on as the outcome for the climate conference.

US President Barack Obama arrives at Copenhagen Airport for the climate conference Friday. (AP Photo/Jens Dige/POLFOTO)

A coughing and weary Connie Hedegaard, the former Danish climate minister who was convention president and is leading informal talks, swept past reporters on the way in and later toward arriving delegations. The formal plenary was just about to begin…

Now, the conference is in the hands of President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and a handful of other heads of state who have been trying to hammer out the broad outlines of a global climate rescue plan.

“Most of the leaders are still working out to produce a meaningful agreement to be adopted,” Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama told reporters this morning. He said Japan still hopes for an agreement that would include specific greenhouse gas cuts “by all major countries,” but Japan’s commitment is conditional — dependent upon fair, ambitious and comprehensive terms for the post-2012 Kyoto Protocol framework.

Observers tell us the leaders are trying to put together a collective goal for the major industrial nations that gets carbon emissions reduction targets to 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 — the level that the U.N. expert scientific panel has said is necessary to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said progress was being held back by China.

As of 2007 they stood only 4 percent below 1990 levels, and the rest of the world continued pumping out more heat-trapping gases mainly from fossil fuels. Global emissions have grown 23 percent this decade. In 2008 almost three-quarters of the increase came from China. Other big contributors were India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, Iran and Mexico.

Right now the 40 industrialized nations have pledged cuts totaling somewhere in the mid-teens, but that assumes the best-case scenarios and no loopholes. A leaked U.N. document Thursday said the total of those pledges will probably not prevent warming of 3 degrees Celsius.

It’s not earth-shattering progress, but better than a total collapse of the talks, observers say.

John Heilprin covers the United Nations and has reported on climate for AP since January 2001.

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