Obama presses China on climate as summit hangs in balance

President Barack Obama on Friday pressed China to allow outside review of its pledged greenhouse gas emissions curbs.

The president told the faltering Copenhagen summit that verification is vital to an emissions deal as the impasse between the world’s two largest emitters persisted.

Obama’s speech didn’t mention China specifically, but U.S. and Chinese negotiators have for days been wrestling with the issue.

Obama said there must be a way for reviewing whether nations are upholding their commitments, but added “these measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty.”

“They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible, and that we are living up to our mutual obligations. For without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page,” he said.

“I don’t know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing our information and ensuring we are meeting our commitments. That does not make sense. It would be a hollow victory,” he added.

Obama later met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for almost an hour and “made progress,” according to a White House official, who added that the meeting was “constructive.”

Speeches Friday by Obama and other officials were delayed as Obama huddled with over two dozen leaders after landing in Copenhagen in the morning.

The unscheduled multilateral meeting to try and salvage the talks included U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It also included Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei.

Obama, in his address, said the collective ability of world leaders to confront climate change “is in doubt right now.”

“The question then before us is no longer the nature of the challenge – the question is our capacity to meet it,” Obama said. “For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, I have to be honest, as the world watches us today, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now and it hangs in the balance.”

“We are ready to get this done today, but there has to be movement on all sides to recognize that it is better for us to act than to talk, better for us to choose action over inaction, the future over the past,” Obama said.

Obama said unchecked climate change poses huge risks to global security, the economy and the planet. 

He said a final deal will not be perfect but urged compromise between developed nations and emerging economies on the size of emissions curbs and financing agreements, calling for a pact after years of talks.

“We know the fault lines because we have been imprisoned by them for years,” Obama said, urging nations to embrace an accord that can be refined and built upon later.

Obama did not offer new U.S. pledges but touted the existing U.S. offer – including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge Thursday that the U.S. would join other developed countries to create a $100 billion annual fund by 2020 to help developing nations tackle climate change. The U.S., however, has linked the pledge to nations' agreeing that an emissions accord must include verification measures.

The U.S. is pledging to curb its emissions of heat-trapping gases in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, although this is contingent upon final congressional approval.

The Copenhagen talks are aimed at crafting a broad political accord, while work to complete a binding international treaty would follow next year.

First posted at 7:16 a.m. and updated at 10:17 a.m.


More in E2-Wire

Five threats to the EPA’s climate rule

Read more »