The Copencabana

Small Dead Animals has a translation of a German article which purports to describe how Barack Obama stormed into a meeting of heads of state, acting like it was a scene from a Hollywood movie. Although the Welt article has the most detail, there are collateral reports from other papers which suggest an extraordinary scene took place, although not necessarily confirming the details of Welt.  The question is what happened and what did it signify.


The Welt story follows in its entirety, as translated on Small Dead Animals. But it is a strange story, with odd parts grafted together. Like the Iliad it begins with what might be called the Wrath of Obama as he breaks up a meeting in which the Chinese President, who seemed to be avoiding him, was participating. Then it suddenly becomes a sports drama. The President goes into a huddle with some of his fellow heads of state and then mounts the podium to announce an historic deal. This is the drama that has been highlighted in much of the US coverage, the part in which the President beats the buzzer with a 70 foot jumpshot from the backcourt. Finally, it becomes an escape movie. Because nobody seems to think its a deal who didn’t hear the key lines. No sooner has the President triumphed, then he leaves, with the remaining delegates open-mouthed, not knowing whether their talks have become redundant or are even in conflict with the meteoric One.

His arrival was immediately followed by a pithy presentation. Right after his arrival at the conference center, he let it be known to those present: “The time for [mere] talk is over.” He would assume leadership of the negotiations.

Together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leaders of Russia, Brazil, Japan, the European Union and of other important countries, Obama went to work. But it did not go quite as the Nobel Peace Prize-winner had imagined. Only Norbert Röttgen, Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety remained optimistic. In spite of the tough negotiations, a compromise can be found, he said. “Today the die will be cast.”

Instead a fiasco had begun making itself visible and felt. It began during the night of Friday and Saturday. A small group of negotiators assembled from among the 30 important and representative countries, among them Germany, were still discussing the main features and principles to be included in a twelve-point document. It was titled “The Copenhagen Accord” and consisted of a three-page collection of vague aims, without specific legally-binding goals that were to be achieved.

Although China is among the worst climate polluters and has had a long ascent in becoming an industrial power deserving of respect and recognition, Premier Wen Jiabao was not among the participants in the talks-not that his participation was not desired. To the contrary!

According to rumors in the Bella Center, US President Barack Obama at about 11 PM, had impatiently asked to speak with Wen Jiabao in order to advance the discussion. But Obama had to wait. Wen, who, it was rumored, had rarely left his hotel room, could not be found. Finally, the US delegation located him in a room set aside for negotiations. A visibly furious Obama, according to reports, stormed into the room. “Are you now ready to talk with me, Premier Wen?” he was reported to have shouted. “Are you now ready? Premier Wen, are you now ready to talk with me?” What a scene for a US president.

Wen was not alone in the room at the time when Obama quite literally burst into the room, according to participants. At the time, the Premier was in a conversation with India’s head of state, Mammohan Singh and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma. Suddenly the group saw itself forced into a conversation with the US president.

At the insistence of the impatient Obama, this unplanned and coincidentally-assembled negotiating round and participants, agreed on a minimal compromise.

Obama should have discussed, coordinated with and agreed to this compromise with his closest partners: the European Union or the G77 Developing Nations. Instead, at about 10:25 PM, he called together a number of American journalists for an impromptu press conference. There he announced, the “Copenhagen Accord” as the conclusion and product of the two-week long conference. He was aware, that many countries would consider the result as insufficient and unsatisfactory. More, however, was not achievable.

He thought it a significant achievement and milestone that large developing countries like India and China had, for the first time, recognized the necessity of reducing emissions and accepted to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

With that, he packed his bags and flew home. Chancellor Angela Merkel also left and went back to Berlin. Both left Copenhagen without having achieved a clear result. And, what is even more serious, without having bothered about a follow-on to what had been announced as an historic conference. Dealing with climate was left to others. It was a serious mistake that would soon make itself manifest.

Even while Obama and Merkel were on their way home, late during the night, the EU Commission, even as they gnashed their teeth, declared themselves prepared to accept Obama’s minimum compromise. Unlike the Europeans, many African nations were not prepared to follow. At the plenary session, Sudan’s head, Lumumba Di-Aping was beside himself. No one is entitled to destroy Africa said the Sudanese who was the spokesman for the G77 Developing Nations. He said the document would mean the death of millions. Finally, Di-Aping aroused outrage in the main meeting hall by comparing the accord to the Holocaust.

The Pacific island-states also declined to agree to the Obama document. With an eye toward the promised $30 billion in aid mentioned in the final document, the president of the Maldives declared he was not prepared to sell-out his islands for “30 pieces of silver.”

The erratic and unfocused-appearing Danish president, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, at 8 AM declared that he, as president of the 193 nation-conference, could not agree to the Copenhagen Accord.

One final last-minute attempt was made to avert the total failure of the climate conference. For that reason, a negotiating session was announced. After hectic bilateral talks, at 10:30 AM, the conference agreed to “recognize the existence of” the Obama Document. With this lowest-level of diplomatic recognition, the outright rejection of the compromise by the United Nations was narrowly avoided. But no more.


The Welt article doesn’t paint a very sympathetic picture of the President, but it’s not at all clear who won the round. The Financial Times says that China “treasures” the agreement, despite being cast as the villain of the conference and defended itself from the charge it had abandoned the Third World. In exchange for what?  We don’t know, but the WSJ describes talks between Duke Energy and the China State Grid to “to build transmission networks in the U.S. with Chinese technology”. Nobody is saying the Duke Energy deal is linked to Copenhagen, but it is not unreasonable to speculate that deals similar to Duke deal were part of the packages that were threshed out in Copenhagen. As an example of what might have gone on, it serves, though it may not be an instance itself.

Money is likely to lie at the heart of the European disappointment with Copenhagen. As MSNBC hints, there were deals done in the Danish capital, but they weren’t the deals the Europeans had set up. Brussels had counted on a UN process to channel the discussion into areas favored by the Europeans. But it disintegrated into a series of backroom deals and the Welt article can now be understood as Barack Obama barging into one and yanking out some of the participants in order to forge his own ‘unprecedented’ agreements. MSNBC writes:

It’s a climate deal no one loves, especially in Europe. The continent that used to take the lead in advocating climate action is now leading those grousing about what’s been done.

And it’s not just the results from last week’s climate talks in Copenhagen that upset politicians and business leaders in Europe, but the very process by which nations reached the agreed Climate Accord. Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen was shoved aside as president of the conference in favor of someone from the Caribbean — Philip Weech of the Bahamas’ environment commission. When an 11th-hour deal was finally hammered out, the only leaders in the room were from Africa, North America, South America and Asia. …

European politicians blame China and other developing countries for cutting the heart of out of the agreement, with Britain accusing Beijing of vetoing a deal for mandatory emission cuts and an EU official complaining that some countries held the entire conference hostage.

“Never again should we face the deadlock that threatened to pull down those talks,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday. “Never again should we let a global deal to move towards a greener future be held to ransom by only a handful of countries.”

“The vast majority of countries, developed and developing,” supported binding cuts in emissions, British climate change minister Ed Miliband wrote in The Guardian newspaper, but “some leading developing countries currently refuse to countenance this.”


One possible translation of the Brown and Miliband’s statements is that never again should the UN be put in charge of something so vital as setting up a deal. The UN people could not keep it on the European track and it went off on the Orient Express. There are indications that the Europeans indeed got shafted. The carbon trading market is already falling face down with a knife in its back. The WSJ reports that prices are falling on the “weak accord”.

Prices for carbon-emission permits in Europe are tanking on Monday, with a fall of nearly 10%, the biggest decline in almost a year. That’s a pretty clear sign that whatever the other merits of the “Copenhagen Accord,” it does nothing to actually tighten limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. …

So where to from here? The near-term prospects for European carbon prices—and, by extension, the vaunted “price signal” for a clean-tech investment rush–don’t look to great. There’s already a glut of permits, which has kept prices lowish. And there’s a fresh set ready to be issued in February, adding even more permits to a market that has more than it knows what to do with.

If there’s a moral to this story it is ‘watch your back’. That probably applies to the voters too. Maybe Al Gore felt better flying over than flying back. He should know better than anyone else that there’s personal and there’s business.

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