Obama departs fractious Copenhagen talks with limited pact

President Barack Obama on Friday night announced a climate accord crafted with several major developing countries at the Copenhagen summit that includes pledges of steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions and verification of countries’ actions.

The agreement allows Obama to salvage a limited deal at the 193-nation talks that were marked by bitter disputes around core issues including emissions targets and financial considerations.

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Obama called the agreement an unprecedented breakthrough but said it does not go far enough to curb emissions in coming decades. He struck the deal with leaders from China, India, Brazil and South Africa after meetings at the United Nations talks.

But it remains unclear how many more countries will ultimately embrace the accord, and the conference has not yet ended. “We know it is more than five but less than 193,” an environmentalist at the talks told The Hill on Friday night. Senior administration officials noted Friday that Obama's negotiations included a wide range of leaders from Europe and other nations, including other developing countries.

Top Senate Democrats quickly claimed the agreement would help them pass a climate bill next year. Legislation to mandate emissions curbs has been stalled in that chamber after the House narrowly approved a bill in June.

“Today’s developments strengthen our resolve to pass comprehensive clean energy legislation this spring that creates jobs, reduces pollution and improves our energy independence,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Under the deal, Obama said, nations would list their national actions and commitments, although the agreement is not legally binding. It also contains financing pledges for helping developing nations adapt to climate change, he said.

“These three components -- transparency, mitigation and finance -- form the basis of the common approach that the United States and our partners embraced here in Copenhagen,” Obama said at a press conference before departing.

But Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) was skeptical and said more information is needed.

“The president has painted a very nice picture, but as I have said time and time before, the devil is in the details. I am very concerned that developing countries like China, India and Brazil are simply giving the idea of international participation lip-service,” he said.

According to Reuters, the deal includes specific short-term climate financing pledges to aid developing nations, including $3.6 billion from the U.S. in the 2010-12 period. It lays out a more general goal of developing nations jointly mobilizing $100 billion in aid by 2020 from a variety of sources, both public and private, according to the account.

The deal sets forth a goal of keeping global temperature increases under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a level that many experts call needed to prevent many of the most dangerous climate changes. Obama acknowledged the plan won't spur deep enough emissions curbs. “We have a come a long way but we have much further to go,” he said.

Obama nonetheless called it a landmark step. “These actions will help us meet our responsibility to leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner and safer planet,” Obama said.

The extent to which nations – notably China – would agree to external monitoring of their emissions pledges was a major sticking point at the talks.

Obama, who had multiple meetings Friday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, said the plan makes actions subject to international consultation and analysis similar to what occurs under World Trade Organization agreements.

He also appeared to downplay the importance of formal outside verification. “The truth is that we can actually monitor a lot of what takes place through satellite imagery and so forth,” Obama said. “We are going to have a pretty good sense of what countries are doing.”

Obama and other nations had hoped the Copenhagen talks would result in a wide accord that clears the way for a final, legally binding treaty to be completed next year. Asked about the prospect for a treaty next year, Obama replied, “I think it is going to be very hard and it's going to take some time.”

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp issued a statement praising the limited agreement.

"Today’s agreement takes the first important steps toward true transparency and accountability in an international climate agreement. The sooner the U.S. speaks through Senate legislation, the sooner we can set the terms of engagement for talks to come,” he said.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, however, slammed the outcome, alleging it is nowhere near ambitious enough. “World leaders had a once in a generation chance to change the world for good, to avert catastrophic climate change. In the end they produced a poor deal full of loopholes big enough to fly Air Force One through,” Naidoo said.

China and the U.S. are the world’s top two emitters, and fast-growing India is the fifth largest.