Workers, Businesspeople, and the Majority of Americans Call for Real Action in Copenhagen

It was still dark in Copenhagen when I stepped out of a light drizzle and into the cavernous conference halls of the climate summit center, where I addressed a roomful of reporters at a press conference hosted by the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership of four labor organizations, the NRDC, and the Sierra Club. 

The Alliance understands that we can put Americans back to work by creating the kind of clean and sustainable energy future our country needs to strengthen our economy and turn back climate change.

The reporters, though, wanted to know how talks were progressing here at the summit. If it ends without a global climate agreement, asked one, will there be a political price to pay?

First, I pointed out, President Obama and more than a hundred other leaders are coming here over the next two days because the people they represent want a global agreement.

A USA Today poll published Tuesday found that 55 percent of Americans favor an international agreement for action aimed at cutting the carbon pollution that's causing climate change.

With so much riding on these talks, for the future of our country and the future of the world, citizens everywhere would be furious if leaders go home empty handed.

There would be tremendous anger across the world, I said, not only in the United States, but around the world--and tremendous disappointment.

Would politicians pay a price? That's for voters to decide.

We would all pay a price, though, and the price would be high, if we fail as a nation, and as a global community, to take action at last against climate change.

The clock is ticking and, in Copenhagen at least, we've come down to two days.  

Negotiators have been deadlocked over issues ranging from the level of emissions cuts pledged by individual nations to the amount wealthy countries like the United States will pony up long-term to help low-income regions cope with climate change.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s announcement today that the U.S. would contribute to a global fund of $100 billion a year by 2020 has reenergized things here. What’s needed now is a meaningful agreement that delivers effective action on climate change.

That's where the leaders come it. Negotiators are here with specific mandates. Their ability to maneuver is limited. It's the leaders who have the authority to go the extra mile that will be needed to broker a meaningful agreement. Their arrival shifts talks here onto higher ground.

"There can be no international agreement without U.S. leadership," said former U.S. diplomat Stuart Eizenstadt. "I believe that leadership is there," he said, and "the president will make significant contributions when he comes."

Eizenstadt chaired a panel I appeared on sponsored by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a coalition of environmental groups and corporations devoted to preserving forests and the carbon absorbing capacity they provide.

The event highlighted the cooperation emerging among corporate and environmental interests working to reverse the rapid loss of forests due to development and resource extraction.

On the panel, I sat next to Dennis Welch, executive vice president of American Electric Power, one of the largest utilities in the country.

The NRDC has its issues with AEP, but we're on the same side when it comes to the clean energy and climate legislation now before the Senate.

"She's suing me left and right," Welch said to scattered laughter, "but we came together on the legislation because it's the right thing to do... we need legislation now."

That's exactly the spirit we need to tap to get legislation through the Senate. And I'm confident that with the leadership of Senators Graham, Kerry and Lieberman, we'll come back after the January break with the outlines of legislation that will move us an important step toward getting legislation passed by spring.