The Road from Copenhagen Leads to the U.S. Senate

This morning I returned to the Bella Center for the final moments of the climate summit, having left last night after President Obama's announcement of the "Copenhagen Accord." What a week of ups and downs - actually two weeks for the negotiators and NRDC's international climate team: Jake Schmidt, David Doniger and Heather Allen.

Lots of views today of what went down, what does this mean. My take is that after two years and two weeks of intent, the whole UNFCCC process was headed for a breakdown, averted at the last moment by the direct intervention of President Obama. That sounds dramatic, but not overly so, because it's true.

Yesterday morning I listened to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon call on the assembled world leaders to demonstrate common sense and courage with a conscience.

He was followed by speeches by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Obama. To me, each of them represented one of the key issues of an accord: mitigation, transparency and finance. The triangle was there but the points were not yet joined. There was no deal at that point.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Thursday that the United States would chip in its share of a fund to reach $100 billion a year by 2020 to help the world's poorest people cope with climate change. That lifted summit spirits.

China's statement on transparency later that day widened the door a crack.

But when Obama arrived yesterday he seemed clearly irritated that a deal was not yet in hand. What followed was 20 or so hours of real drama.

His speech was delayed as bilateral discussions ensued, still no deal.  He engaged all day and well into the night in one-on-one and group conversations with the major emitters.

China was elusive.  Apparently the drafting pen was out and they knocked out the framework of an agreement well after 9 pm.

President Obama recognized in his own remarks that much more was needed but this was a first step. A sigh of relief went around, but the accord still had to be approved by the plenary.  As I was leaving for the night, Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di-Aping was suggesting in a press conference that he would blow it up. Over the wee hours, Doniger and Schmidt listened to country after country speak to the Accord. First the mood was sour: this wasn't enough. Then Sudan overshot its hand by calling the accord reminiscent of the holocaust. The mood started to shift.

The Maldives, the most vulnerable island state, asked for action. The European Union came on board.  At the end, as the process limped to a close, only Sudan, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela held out and the Accord was "noted" in UN parlance.

This moves us all to the next stage.

Environmental activists around the world had hoped for more, much more, to avert the most damaging impacts of climate change around the world. The Accord will not avert the melting of the arctic, sea level rise or serious consequences to the world' s poor and vulnerable.  But it will take us to the next step, where the US, China, India and the major emitters have agreed to set carbon mitigation targets, put real money into preserving forests and helping the world's most vulnerable people cope with climate change and to put in place a transparent process to ensure commitments are met.

And most importantly for the United States, it sets the stage for action in the Senate, where one of the major barriers has been lack of transparency for commitments by China.  Now we have that, it can not be an excuse for our Senators not to act.