Obama's climate accord fails the test

Watered-down agreement follows day of bitter wrangling in Copenhagen

A A A

World leaders late last night agreed a hugely watered-down version of a new global pact on climate change, after an astonishing day of deadlock, disagreement, misunderstandings, walkouts and insults at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen.

The agreement, patched together after massive and rancorous divisions between the rich nations and the developing countries, especially America and China, was described as a "meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough" by the US President Barack Obama. However, a senior American official openly admitted it was not enough to combat the threat of a warming planet, saying merely: "It is a first step."

Known as the Copenhagen Accord, the new agreement falls massively short of the ambitions many people had centred on the two-week meeting in the Danish capital, in the hope of a major new effort to combat the global warming threat. Although in principle it commits – for the first time – all the countries of the world, including the developing countries, to cut their emissions of the greenhouse gases which are causing climate change, the accord is not legally binding, merely a political statement.

They key timetable for turning it into a legal instrument by this time next year, which is what the world desperately needs so that cuts in CO2 emissions really are carried out, was dropped from the text during the immensely difficult and seemingly-intractable talks which lasted all day and late into the evening. In effect, that makes it toothless. Mr Obama himself admitted that a binding deal would be "hard to achieve".

And although, again for the first time, the new accord set a target for the whole world to try to keep the expected rise in temperatures to below the danger threshold of C above the pre-industrial level, last night's final text dropped all reference to the individual targets for emission cuts which countries will have to take on, both in the medium and in the long-term. It is possible these may be inserted early next year – but without being legally binding, they are merely generalised aspirations.

Although at least there was a deal of sorts, which may be built on later, it was a sorry end to a day which saw seemingly insuperable divisions between rich nations and the developing countries over how the biggest problem facing the world should be tackled, even though nearly 120 of their heads of state and government were in Copenhagen to deal with it directly.

The day's most remarkable feature was a direct and unprecedented personal clash between the US President, Barack Obama, and the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, in which Mr Wen took deep offence at Mr Obama's insistence – in public – that the Chinese should allow their promised cuts in greenhouse gases to be internationally verified. When the President, in an unyielding speech, said that without international verification "any agreement would be empty words on a page", that was too much for Mr Wen. He left the conference in Copenhagen's Bella Centre, returned to his hotel in the city, and responded with a direct snub of his own – he sent low-level delegates to take his place in the talks.

A high-level source told The Independent that the US President was amazed when he found who he was negotiating with, and clearly regarded Mr Wen's absence as a major diplomatic insult. He snapped: "It would be nice to negotiate with somebody who can make political decisions" although last night urgent diplomatic efforts were underway to try to bring the two leaders face to face for a second round of talks, to patch up the disagreement.

Even until late there was stubborn disagreement over two issues – what long-term emissions cuts of greenhouse gases the world should aim at, to keep future warming below the C danger threshold, and the America-Chinese "transparency" problem – how promised emissions cuts by individual countries could be internationally monitored and verified. In both cases, it was the Chinese, now the world's biggest CO2 emitters with the world's fastest growing economy, who held out – against fixed targets, and international verification. In the end, the ambition of the deal had to be sacrificed to get it signed.

It was thought that the presence together in the same room of the world's most powerful politicians, from Mr Obama down, would prove the means of unlocking the stalemate which has dogged the two-week conference, itself the culmination of a two-year negotiating process aimed at building a new and comprehensive climate treaty. But instead, the differing attitudes and distrust which have plagued the conference remained entrenched, and were even more visible when the leaders met in Copenhagen's Bella Centre – most notably in the direct clash between the world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters America and China.

Yet it got worse. The long-awaited meeting, on which so much hope has been placed for so long around the world – the Danes, from their Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussne down, have been referring to Copenhagen as "Hopenhagen" – threatened to descend into farce when Venezuela's firebrand Marxist President, Hugo Chavez, fired off a string of insults at Mr Obama from the podium, saying he had been awarded "the Nobel Prize for war" and referring to his "Yankee Empire".

Subsequently Mr Chavez said he was leaving the meeting, along with his fellow Marxist Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, and leaving the talks to junior negotiators.

It was a tragic sight for all those trying to head off the immense catastrophe-in-waiting which global warming represents, especially for the poorest in the world who will be hit hardest by rising temperatures – such as many of Mr Chavez's own people, and millions of others in South America, Africa and Asia.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Teaching Assistant

£12000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Secondary Teaching ...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Science Teacher

£110 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: This sch...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?