Dispatch from Copenhagen: The Stage Is Set for Real Climate Action

I arrived Sunday in Copenhagen, where I'm heading the NRDC delegation to the historic UN climate summit. Signs of optimism and progress are everywhere, from the colorful "Hopenhagen" billboards to the sleek wind turbines towering over the strait between Denmark and Sweden.

Scores of thousands took to the streets here on Saturday, demonstrating to the world how much our collective fate hangs in the balance in Copenhagen this week.

There's more than symbolism, though, behind the growing momentum for change.

The leaders -- including President Obama and more than 100 other heads of state -- coming in the days ahead are determined to consolidate the global consensus for real action against climate change. They are ready for serious talks at the highest level about the issues that divide countries and regions. And they are increasingly prepared, I'm convinced, to do their part to help.

Leaders of wealthy countries are buying into a plan to provide $30 billion over the next three years to help developing nations cope with the impacts of climate change. And plans are coming together for a mechanism that will help create and transfer clean energy technology and ensure developing countries have access to that technology.

Beijing has pledged to cut carbon emissions as a percentage of economic output. That means China would reduce its carbon intensity by between 40 and 45 percent below 2000 levels by the year 2020, a significant pledge. In addition, China has set a goal of producing 15 percent of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2020. And it pledged to plant 100 million acres of forest by that year, a move that would help the largest country in the world digest huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

India, too, has stepped up with climate pledges, as have Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and other countries.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson got a standing ovation here a few days ago by summit delegates applauding the Obama administration's decision to finally call carbon dioxide emissions what they are: pollution that threatens our health.

The U.S. delegation, led by climate envoy Todd Stern, is deeply engaged with his global counterparts and, by all accounts, listening to ideas from others. And it's fair to say enormous excitement has built over the expected appearance of Obama at the end of the week.

The stage is set, in other words, for success. It won't happen, though, without real effort by dozens of countries, the United States and China for starters.

This is truth time and agreements have to be reached in ways that are acceptable not only here in the air of urgency and optimism of Copenhagen, but in the countries where they must be implemented. Whatever delegates agree to here must translate into the cultures that will ultimately carry out the work and change any meaningful accord will require.

We all got a dose of how hard that can be here on Monday, when delegates from dozens of African nations held up some meetings over their demands for deeper emissions cuts from developed countries and more money from wealthy nations to help low-income people adapt to the ravages of climate change already occurring in many parts of the world.

The initial $30 billion wealthy nations are eyeing for poorer countries may not be adequate. Longer term, that level will have to grow. We need the African nations at the table, though, to help craft the best possible package.

Those of us who have spent years urging global action on climate change have reason for hope here in Copenhagen. By week's end, we could see a strong international agreement for real action on the single greatest environmental ill of our time. Here's hoping.