Obama shifts gears, will attend close of Copenhagen talks

President Barack Obama will attend the close of the Copenhagen climate talks instead of the beginning, the White House said Friday.

Obama will be in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Dec. 18, abandoning plans to visit the early portion of the summit. He’ll instead join a large number of heads of state for the culmination of the Dec. 7-18 talks.

Obama’s earlier plan had received criticism from some European officials, who called the close of the negotiations more important. The decision could carry political risk by tethering the president more closely to the final outcome of the summit.

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White House press secretary Robert Gibbs cited progress in international commitments to fight climate change in explaining Obama’s decision, noting pledges by China and India to curb their greenhouse gas intensity, or level of emissions relative to economic output.

“Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the president believes that continued U.S. leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on Dec. 18 rather than on Dec. 9,” Gibbs said in a prepared statement.

“There are still outstanding issues that must be negotiated for an agreement to be reached, but this decision reflects the president’s commitment to doing all that he can to pursue a positive outcome,” he added.

Gibbs also cited other progress, including an “emerging consensus” on needed assistance levels for developing nations.

The talks are aimed at crafting a broad political accord that will launch immediate actions on emissions cutting and finance for helping developing nations address climate change.

However, efforts to craft a final, binding treaty have been pushed into next year.