Dispatch from Copenhagen: “Now Must Change the Game”

The heads of state are due to start arriving at the Copenhagen climate summit tomorrow, Wednesday, December 16. As a result, now comes “the moment when we really change the game,” says Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark.

Until now, there’s been more drama and bickering than substantive progress. The African nations and others temporarily blocked the talks, claiming that the Kyoto Protocol process was being neglected. There also have been rumors of a secret text that will be sprung on the countries (firmly denied by the president of the COP15 meeting Connie Hedegaard). And the United States, the European Union, and China have all taken turns sniping at each other, each saying that their own promised carbon emission reduction policies are good, but that the others need to step up and do more.

Swedish environment minister and EU spokesman Andreas Carlgren said at an afternoon press conference, for example, that “we expect both the U.S. and China to raise their targets for emissions reductions. Otherwise, we won’t reach the two degree target”—keeping the planet from warming more than two degrees Centigrade. U.S. negotiator Todd Stern shot back at his own subsequent press conference, saying that by almost every measure, the U.S. emissions reduction targets are “equal or higher than many of our developed country partners.”

In short, it’s been the usual negotiating rhetoric. “Bickering is completely normal at this stage,” says COP15 president Hedegaard. Adds Rasmussen: “Countries blaming each other and pushing each other is not so bad.”

But now the stakes suddenly get higher. Time is running out, with only three days left, and the heads of state don’t want to go home empty-handed. “Now people must compromise,” says Hedegaard. The negotiators are expected to produce an updated version of two key texts by early afternoon on Wednesday, ready for the higher-level discussions that will begin when the heads of state arrive. One text updates the Kyoto Protocol; the other lays out a different approach, dubbed the LCA track (for Long-term Co-operative Action.)

Can it all come together? It will be tough, with negotiators working much of the night. Some stayed until 4 AM on Tuesday morning. But Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen remains confident. “We can do this by Friday,” he says.

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