Obama Clinches Non-Binding Climate Deal as Copenhagen Summit Ends

After hours of frantic negotiations, President Barack Obama emerged from the Copenhagen climate talks holding an agreement with China, India, and other developing countries designed to fight global climate change. The agreement, which falls short of environmentalists' hopes, nevertheless represents a political victory for the American president. Appearing at a press conference a 11 p.m. Copenhagen time, a tired-looking Obama described the pact as a "meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough."

Still, the agreement will face immediate criticism -- and relief from climate-change skeptics -- due to the lack of required emission-reduction targets. "It will not be legally binding," Obama conceded, adding that binding emissions targets were "not achievable at this meeting."Flak From Both Sides

Obama said the participating nations had agreed to "list commitments" to combat climate change, provide greater transparency through "international consultation and analysis," and set a "mitigation target" of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. "Each nation will be putting concrete commitments in an appendix to the document and will lay out very specifically what those commitments are," Obama said, referring to the emissions targets he said developing nations would offer for the first time ever.

In a preview of what may be to come with Obama's signature domestic initiative, health insurance reform, the administration appears to have placed a premium on achieving a deal, even at the expense of certain strict measures it had desired. While Obama's political foes paint him as a political extremist, the president is displaying a strong pragmatic streak -- so strong, in fact, that he has aroused the ire of his left flank, which has pushed for more aggressive measures both on climate change and health care reform.

Environmentalists will criticize Obama for failing to achieving binding targets.

Obama reached the pact after frenzied, last-minute negotiations with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Jacob Zuma. It was a tense day and night in Copenhagen, as world leaders desperately worked to forge a deal and expectations rose and fell dramatically.

Developed vs. Developing

Obama touted the agreement by developing nations like China and India to voluntarily establish emissions "mitigation targets." At issue during the talks was the perennial sticking point of any global climate agreement -- the gulf between richer, developed nations, which have moved to curb their own emissions, and poorer, developing nations, which have been loathe to adopt strict emissions standards that could curb their booming growth.

In essence, developing nations have bitterly questioned why the United States and Europe, which went through incredibly dirty and environmentally destructive phases of industrial growth to become wealthy, should tell them how they are to grow. And considering that the United States remains the world's largest polluter, the argument goes, developed countries want developing countries to "Do as I say," not "Do as I do."

But for developed countries and green advocates, no solution to global warming can leave out giant developing countries like China and India, which burn millions of tons of fossil fuel and emit vast quantities of toxic substances into the atmosphere. Despite the voluntary targets that Obama said the developing countries would make, the president acknowledged that even if the countries follow through on their commitments, "the targets will not be by themselves what we need to get to 2050."

Defeat For Skeptics

Although Obama's opponents will trumpet the pact's non-binding nature, the deal nevertheless represents a defeat for climate-change skeptics, who in recent months have launched a furious public relations assault on the concept of global warming, the idea that rising temperatures pose a threat to humans. Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and a leading climate change skeptic, dismissed the Copenhagen talks as little more than "group therapy."

President Obama, like most Democrats and some Republicans, believes that global warming is real and its potential for harm represents a serious global threat. Climate skeptics, on the other hand, dispute that the science of climate change is "settled," and usually argue either that the issue isn't as important as greens claim, or that humans can't change the climate anyway -- for good or ill.

Despite the withering assault on the green forces in recent years -- attacks which have steepened in recent months in anticipation of the Copenhagen talks -- there has been a growing general move in the United States toward environmental conservation and energy efficiency.

In a pointed jab at his critics, Obama emphasized what environmentalists describe as the scientific consensus that global warming poses an urgent threat to humanity. "Ultimately, this issue is going to be dictated by the science," Obama said, "and the science indicates that we're going to have to take more aggressive steps in the future."
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