How Badly Are Climate Talks Going in Copenhagen?

Observers take the temperature of negotiations. Is it a cliché to call them "a mess"?

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No one ever thought the Copenhagen climate talks were going to be easy, but lately folks have been getting particularly pessimistic; a conference that got off to a rocky start now seems besieged by discord at every turn, from tricky financial negotiations to a stony standoff between the U.S. and China. Beneath the frustrated protesters and gloomy headlines, how bad is it, really? Four opinions:

  • Agreement Possible--We'll See The Economist carries one of the more optimistic assessments: "A compromise that is contained in the draft text," the writer explains, "suggesting that richer countries would cut emissions, but without the binding nature of Kyoto, may offer some way to get beyond this impasse." But the author is also sensible of the great challenges of even this course of action: "there are plenty of other ways for things to go wrong once the heads of government turn up. One concern is the question of what, if anything, poorer countries will be bound to do themselves. The current text requires that developing countries act only when rich countries pay them to do so. It seems highly unlikely that an agreement will be reached without further requirements of some sort."
  • Not Going to Be Easy Politics Daily's David Corn writes of the "familiar cliché" going around Copenhagen--that negotiations "are a mess, until they're not." The presumed magical resolution, however, is not wholly reassuring. "With 115 heads of states beginning to arrive," writes Corn from Denmark, "the Copenhagen talks have left some fundamental gaps for the last minute. Even if those gaps are bridged, the resulting agreement could fall far short of what experts say is necessary to redress the dire consequences of rising global temperatures. Just ask the scientists roaming the halls."
  • Frustration, Gridlock Bryan Walsh analyzes the situation for Time. He writes that while the U.S. and others could give ground from their side, "some yielding by China on the issue of transparency will be necessary to craft a global deal"--the developed nations want to be able to see progress being made in China, and "the U.S. Senate will never sign on to another climate deal that, like the Kyoto Protocol, seems to give a free ride to Beijing." Walsh says that "knowing the U.S.'s stance, China may be willing to negotiate, although it will no doubt bargain hard."
  • The Possibility of Failure Der Spiegel's Markus Becker and Christoph Seidler think the conference so far has been pretty disappointing, and write that the U.S.-China standoff "could end up being a major problem for the negotiations." Here's their gloomy prognosis:
An unofficial draft of the concluding statement, which circulated at the summit on Tuesday, was ... weak. There were no numbers at all attached to any of the central questions being addressed by the summit: by how much CO2 emissions will be reduced on the long term; when the peak will be reached; what the maximum acceptable temperature increase will be; how much help will the developing world receive from rich nations. Everything remained open. Should there be no answers found to those questions by the time the conference ends on Friday, the failure will be complete.
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