The US president Barack Obama will plunge into the thick of the Copenhagen summit tomorrow, arguing he has transformed US global warming policy and seeking verification guarantees in any new climate pact. Mr Obama will fly overnight tonight to Denmark to join other world leaders at the knife-edge climax of the push to secure a new international deal to combat global warming at an increasingly acrimonious UN conference.
He will spend mere hours on the ground, but aides are billing the visit as a sign that the United States, long condemned for foot dragging on climate change, is now a leader. The president is also wagering valuable domestic political capital on his trip: his team will hope for no repeat of his last quick visit to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago's Olympics bid, which ended in embarrassing failure. But amid bickering and frustration in Copenhagen, hopes for progress towards a deal appeared to be hanging in the balance.
Today, Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd admitted negotiations were "very sticky" and warned that talks are "proceeding at a snail's pace". German Chancellor Angela Merkel said reports from the climate summit in Copenhagen were "not good" but hoped the arrival of world leaders at the meeting would unblock negotiations. "At the moment, the negotiations do not look promising but I of course hope that the presence of more than 100 heads of state and government can give the necessary impetus to the event," she said.
Mr Obama had originally intended to visit Copenhagen at the start of the two week conference, before heading to Oslo last week to accept his Nobel Prize, but changed his mind as pressure mounted for him to help broker a deal. "President Obama is clearly committed to making a global climate deal happen," said Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy institute. "For eight years, we had an administration run by people who not only didn't want an agreement but they actively worked to undermine the international negotiating process."
Mr Obama's pitch will be hampered however by uncertainty about the prospects for a cap-and-trade climate bill in Congress, as opposition to the measure grows amid Republican warnings it could stifle the nascent economic recovery. The Obama administration has already said it will table an offer in Copenhagen to curb emissions in the world's largest economy by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. That figure is well below pledges by Europe and Japan, but US officials have made clear that they do not expect Mr Obama, who is walking a political tightrope at home, to offer to make deeper emissions cuts.
Senior US officials say Mr Obama will argue that since succeeding George W Bush in January, he has made historic efforts to thrust the United States to the forefront of the global fight against climate change. They also point to efforts under his US$787 billion (Dh2.89 trillion) economic stimulus plan to frame a "green" energy efficient economy, to create new jobs from renewable energy and to cut down on the waste of dwindling resources.
Despite increasing acrimony in Copenhagen, the White House says it still believes a worthwhile agreement can be reached to be followed by a binding ratifiable treaty next year. "The president is hopeful that his presence can help ... and hopeful that, again, we leave Copenhagen with a strong operational agreement even as we work toward something even stronger in the future," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday.
Early this morning, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Copenhagen and was due to hold a set of meetings with key nations before attending a gala dinner being thrown in the evening by Denmark's Queen Margrethe, an aide said. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly earlier said in Washington that Ms Clinton and Mr Obama believed they "could play a useful role in helping close gaps" in the climate talks by personally participating.
Ahead of his own trip to Copenhagen, Mr Obama told Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Wednesday that he would push for "a robust agreement" to include "emissions reductions, financing, and a transparent and internationally verifiable compliance regime," the White House said. Aides confirmed that Mr Obama would push for a deal that all countries could sign on to, with clear goals and verification mechanisms.
"What we are trying to achieve fundamentally is the result that gives us an adequate sense of clarity about what other countries are doing," a senior US official said on condition of anonymity. Another official added: "What we are looking for, is for China and other developing countries to enter into a regime or system of transparency and verification." Sceptics are arguing that China and India, with which Mr Obama has mounted intense global warming diplomacy in recent weeks, are not committed to curbing what will be the bulk of future greenhouse gas emissions.