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Obama Delays Visit To Climate Summit, Raising Hopes For Deal

U.S. President Barack Obama's visit is seen as a sign that a meaningful accord is likely.
U.S. President Barack Obama's visit is seen as a sign that a meaningful accord is likely.
(RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Barack Obama has changed his plans to attend the start of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next week -- deciding to instead visit the end of the 12-day event.

The decision to shift the timing of his visit is widely seen as a signal that prospects have improved for a political agreement at the event.

Obama's decision means he will be at the UN Climate Change Conference on December 18 -- considered a crucial period when more world leaders will be in attendance -- as opposed to his earlier plan to stop in Denmark December 9 on his way to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

Obama's aides say the schedule change will add momentum toward an international deal aimed at combating global warming.

The Copenhagen summit is aiming for a deal that includes commitments on reducing emissions and financing for developing countries. World leaders no longer expect to reach a legally binding agreement, as had long been the goal.

During the past month, the United States, India, and China have all made specific proposals on pollution reduction goals for the first time. The White House says Obama hopes to capitalize on the recent proposals by India and China in order to build a more meaningful political accord.

In November, Obama had said that he would travel to the Copenhagen conference if his appearance would help clinch a deal. His original plan to go early to the two-week meeting had been seen by many as a sign that an agreement was still a long shot. But the possibility of an agreement now appears to be improving.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement on December 5 that there are still outstanding issues that must be negotiated. But he said Obama's decision to attend the end of the summit "reflects the president's commitment to doing all that he can" to reach a deal.

Analysts say it also is possible that Obama could include another agenda item to his revamped, final foreign trip of 2009 -- the signing of a broad treaty with Russia to reduce both nations' nuclear arsenals.

The White House had hoped that deal would be ready in time to coordinate it with his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, but talks have not produced a final breakthrough.

India, China On Board

On December 3, India pledged to significantly slow the growth of its carbon emissions over the next decade. China announced its own targets for cutting carbon emissions last week, a day after Obama announced the U.S. goals.

All three countries are among the top five emitters of carbon dioxide in the world -- seen as a cause of global warming. None are subject to limits put in place by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol -- the treaty that negotiations in Denmark are aimed at replacing.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt -- whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency -- welcomed Obama's decision to participate in the end-phase of the Copenhagen meeting. Reinfeldt said through his spokeswoman that Obama's presence in Copenhagen on December 18 "will add political weight to the negotiations."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said that the goal of the Copenhagen summit is to prevent the maximum global temperature rise in the coming decades from increasing by more than 2 degrees Celsius.

"We cannot negotiate against the laws of nature, against science,” Barroso said. “And what science tells us is that two degrees Celsius is indeed the maximum that we can accept in terms of an increase in global temperatures."

But if the danger of uncontrolled emissions is well understood, there is little agreement among individual countries about how much each must do to control the problem.

Another major issue is whether leaders at the Copenhagen meeting can agree on a single baseline for measuring emissions cuts and on what those reduction amounts should be.

The summit also is expected to address the issue of how much developed nations should contribute financially to helping developing nations move to greener technologies.

The EU estimates that some $150 billion would have to be provided to developing nations by 2020 to make significant changes. That would be a huge new commitment for countries still trying to recover from the global economic recession.

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