Copenhagen Endgame: Can Obama Swing It?

Obama addressed the climate conference this morning: can he pull off a last-minute success?

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Friday morning, President Obama delivered his much-anticipated address at the Copenhagen climate change conference, which is scheduled to close today as world leaders try to cram in an agreement. Critics have questioned the wisdom of Obama's attendance and the meaning of his decision to show up toward the end. Yet some have also hoped the American leader's arrival will lend late momentum to frustrating talks which have looked, up until now, unlikely to bear fruit, though yesterday showed some glimmers of progress. Will Obama's rhetoric and starpower be enough to save the negotiations, both internationally and for his own political needs at home?

  • What Obama Needed to Do In a pre-speech assessment, Newsweek's Daniel Stone says Obama is going to have to figure out "how to humbly submit to angry demands while at the same time not overplaying his hand" while in Copenhagen. He also needs his "most creative speech yet":
At the risk of the negotiations utterly collapsing, he'll have to agree to further emissions cuts without overpromising what the Senate may agree upon next year. He'll have to offer large sums for deforestation mitigation and adaptation for small countries without knowing exactly how much Congress will authorize. And he'll have to make a repeated case for urgency in the face of the world's environmental challenges while admitting that his country has, in fact, been one of the biggest foot-draggers of them all.
  • What Obama Delivered "Mitigation, transparency, and financing," writes The Wall Street Journal's Keith Johnson, "were the rhetorical backbones" of the speech, so it wasn't a timeless, tear-inspiring oration. What Obama did do was "[stress] that the U.S. is pushing ahead to tackle climate change whatever happens in Copenhagen, and [urge] leaders gathered there to 'embrace' a climate agreement even if it has flaws." He also "reaffirmed all the key points in the U.S. negotiating position: All major economies must tackle greenhouse-gas emissions; they must do so in a transparent manner; and the rich must help the poor adapt." Next, of course, Johnson admits, "comes the tricky part"--the negotiations.
  • Prestige at Risk Even Attending Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller, analyzing the matter for ABC, conclude that "with much work left undone and very few hours until the conclusion of the summit on Friday evening, Mr. Obama's prestige may be put on the line be even attending the conference."
  • Domestically Risky, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza agrees. The trip and speech "amid increasingly fractious negotiations regarding his health care bill is meant to send a signal of his commitment to the issue, according to a senior administration official briefed on the trip." But "that proclamation won't sit well with the moderate Democrats in the Senate who have already tied themselves into knots over the health care bill and dread the prospect of another controversial legislative fight--this one coming in an election year."
  • Actually, This Might Work "This thing might just come together after all," writes environmental hub Grist's David Roberts. He was encouraged by Secretary Clinton's concession on financing yesterday and the accompanying Chinese concession regarding transparency in emissions cuts; "while there's more left to finish than would be ideal at this point in the process, to say the least, the shape of an interim deal is fairly clear and within reach ... Last I heard, Obama was locked in a room with 18 world leaders to hash it out."
  • This Was a Defeat Speech, David Corn declares from Copenhagen. Obama's "eight-minutes of remarks signaled a global train wreck," and were largely a matter of venting:
After the morning meeting, Obama and his aides had obviously calculated that a deal was far off--perhaps not even possible--and that there was not much Obama could say in this speech to grease the way to a meaningful agreement. So the US president forcefully presented his stance, maintaining he was willing to compromise, and chastised others for failing to rise above their own interests.

This was widely seen at the Bella Center as a sign that talks had collapsed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.