Deadlock at Copenhagen conference

Protesters attempt to break through police lines outside the Bella Centre where the UN climate summit is taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark.


Kai Ryssdal: We are 10 days and counting now into the UN climate conference. And not, it appears, any closer to a binding agreement than we were when the meeting started. There were huge street protests in the Danish capital today. And negotiations are barely crawling along. We've got Stephen Beard on the line from Copenhagen. Hello, Stephen.

Stephen Beard: Hello, Kai.

Ryssdal: The mood at least as portrayed in reports over here today, Stephen, was somewhat chaotic in Copenhagen, right?

Beard: Yes, both inside and outside the summit center. Outside there was a big protest, mainly by environmental and other activists who were not being allowed into the summit center. They registered, many of them had been given summit badges, but they were turned away at the door in the thousands because of overcrowding. And it's emerged that -- and this is one of the many mysteries about this summit -- the Danes registered 45,000 to come into this conference center, which under its fire regulations is only allowed to take 15,000. So they accredited three times more people than the structure can hold. They were handing out badges to virtually anyone with a vague interest in climate change. There's even a delegation here from the London zoo.

Ryssdal: Other than their organizational skills, Stephen, what are the substantive hangups at the conference?

Beard: Well, it's a deadlock once again over the main issues: carbon emission cuts, financial aid for the developing world, and compliance and verification. And it's pretty clear that there are these problems. I mean this is, frankly, a very difficult conference summit to follow. It's difficult to know exactly what's going on, but when you see the draft texts that are handed out every morning, there are lots of blank spaces, lots of brackets with nothing inside them. So it's clear that there are still major differences, and in particularly differences between the U.S. and China, the two key players at this summit.

Ryssdal: It seems as if there is surprise that things have broken down. And I'm curious as to why. Because when President Obama went to Asia six weeks ago Copenhagen was, in essence, officially declared dead and yet now people are shocked that it's not working out.

Beard: It is once again the triumph of hope over experience. People are hoping that they'll get a bandwagon going here, and they'll get enough momentum, enough countries signing up to the idea of tackling climate change that in the end they'll get an agreement. Clearly, they're not going to get a legally-binding agreement this time. They're not going to get a treaty in Copenhagen, but what they're hoping for is a ringing political declaration that will then move this whole caravan, not to say circus, on to the next summit perhaps in six months or a year's time.

Ryssdal: Quickly, Stephen, President Obama shows up in the next day or so, I imagine a lot is riding on his arrival, yes?

Beard: Absolutely. He is the big hope. And many people are saying he wouldn't be coming unless he was absolutely certain of a deal. He's going to pull a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute. He's going to offer something that's going to clinch a deal. On the other hand, there are a lot of skeptics saying that China and other big players are not going to commit themselves until the Congress has spoken, until the U.S. Senate has passed a climate bill, and the U.S. is fully committed. So there is the suspicion that what we're going to wind up with here is a rather bland climate pact, a lukewarm climate agreement.

Ryssdal: Marketplace's Stephen Beard at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Thank you, Stephen.

Beard: OK, Kai.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the London Bureau Chief, providing daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.


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