Merkel, Sarkozy back Danes in last-minute climate diplomacy

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While it is still uncertain whether US President Barack Obama will attend the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, France and Germany rallied behind the Danish prime minister yesterday (19 November) "to make Copenhagen a success".

Ahead of a difficult summit to appoint an EU president and foreign affairs chief, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen met briefly to discuss last-minute tactics to ensure that the global community can maintain strong political momentum to deliver clear and binding commitments in view of a post-Kyoto climate treaty.

"Global cooperation is at the essence of the Copenhagen conference," said Merkel, explaining that a political agreement in December could then be translated into a legal text in the first half of 2010. 

Echoing the German chancellor, Sarkozy said Copenhagen must deliver numbers and figures and must set clear commitments and binding rules. "We don't want a wishy-washy agreement with bad compromises," he stressed, adding that in the next two weeks European leaders will step up action to bring all leaders to the table. 

Merkel and Sarkozy said they will intensify diplomatic activity over the next two weeks to convince all partners to convene on 17-18 December in Copenhagen, during the high-level part of the UN conference. 

"We need to get things moving all over the world," Sarkozy argued, insisting that Europe had played its part and stands ready to do even more, but not without others on board. 

Recently, the Danes again insisted that a deal is still doable in Copenhagen. "Our objective is to achieve one agreement with two purposes," Rasmussen said, the first being to provide political guidance for UN negotiations on the new legal framework, and the second to adopt a binding political agreement that would enter into force immediately and hence provide for immediate action to combat climate change. 

In the meantime, scepticism is mounting across the Atlantic. Trapped between international pressure to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a US Senate that is not prepared to act, the White House is coy about President Obama's plans. 

Sources in Washington point out that Obama could go to Copenhagen after having picked up his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December. "I'm not sure there's anything you get out of it," said a senior Senate Democratic aide. "With nothing to report, inaction and gridlock in the Senate, it seems like a wiser move to stay home," one US senator told Washington-based online news portal Politico. 

According to Politico, the Republicans are eager to depict a do-nothing climate conference as another loss for Obama in Copenhagen. The president has come home empty-handed from Copenhagen before, when he flew to the Danish capital to help his hometown of Chicago lobby for the 2016 Olympic Games. 

"He weighs leadership on the issue versus the lack of any concrete result," said Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. "We know there's going to be no real result." 

Positions: 

"Merkel and Sarkozy have shown the world that the ball is firmly in Obama’s court. For Copenhagen to be more than a photo op, Obama must turn his campaign promises into action. Copenhagen must deliver what the planet needs: a comprehensive and binding climate deal,” said Joris den Blanken, Greenpeace EU climate policy director.

“If the EU is really committed to getting a strong deal in Copenhagen, it must unilaterally upgrade its emission reduction target for 2020. This would send a powerful signal to the negotiations,” said den Blanken. Scientists are calling for a 40% reduction in emissions in industrialised countries by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, in order to keep global warming below dangerous levels. 

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