The Copenhagen Protocol How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit
Part 3: Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back
Like the Europeans, the US president was also intent on securing a commitment to protect the climate from the new economic superpowers, China and India. "I think it is important to note that there are important equities that have to be considered," he said, with a distinctive note in his voice that suggested the foresight of a statesman.
Obama reminded his fellow leaders that the industrialized nations are also dependent on the will of their citizens to contribute to saving the climate. "From the perspective of the developed countries, in order for us to be able to mobilize the political will within each of our countries to not only engage in substantial mitigation efforts ourselves, which are very difficult, but to also then channel some of the resources from our countries into developing countries, is a very heavy lift," Obama said. Then, speaking directly to China, he added: "If there is no sense of mutuality in this process, it is going to be difficult for us to ever move forward in a significant way."
Finally, Obama addressed the diplomatic snub the Chinese prime minister had delivered with his absence: "I am very respectful of the Chinese representative here but I also know there is a premier here who is making a series of political decisions. I know he is giving you instructions at this stage."
But then Obama stabbed the Europeans in the back, saying that it would be best to shelve the concrete reduction targets for the time being. "We will try to give some opportunities for its resolution outside of this multilateral setting ... And I am saying that, confident that, I think China still is as desirous of an agreement, as we are."
'Other Business to Attend To'
At the end of his little speech, which lasted 3 minutes and 42 seconds, Obama even downplayed the importance of the climate conference, saying "Nicolas, we are not staying until tomorrow. I'm just letting you know. Because all of us obviously have extraordinarily important other business to attend to."
Some in the room felt queasy. Exactly which side was Obama on? He couldn't score any domestic political points with the climate issue. The general consensus was that he was unwilling to make any legally binding commitments, because they would be used against him in the US Congress. Was he merely interested in leaving Copenhagen looking like an assertive statesman?
It was now clear that Obama and the Chinese were in fact in the same boat, and that the Europeans were about to drown.
The Chinese negotiator confidently rejected Obama's criticism, saying: "I am speaking not on behalf of myself, but on behalf of China." Then he took on the French president's gaffe, and said: "I heard President Sarkozy talk about hypocrisy. I think I'm trying to avoid such words myself. I am trying to go into the arguments and debate about historical responsibility."
He Yafei decided to give the group a lesson in history: "People tend to forget where it is from. In the past 200 years of industrialization developed countries contributed more than 80 percent of emissions. Whoever created this problem is responsible for the catastrophe we are facing."
What a humiliation it was for Chancellor Merkel. Photos were taken later on that showed her wearing a pink silk blazer, but with her face looking gray and exhausted. She attempted to show the world a dignified façade, speaking of a "new world climate order" that had been reached in Copenhagen. But speaking privately after the meeting, it was clear that she was furious about its failure. She swore to herself that she would not risk the same kind of humiliation again. The chancellor was deeply disturbed by the Chinese and Indian show of power, as well as by Obama's maneuvering.
She must have felt very lonely in that room, with its mustard-colored walls. And the Chinese game wasn't over yet. "I have a procedural question," He Yafei said. "I kindly ask for a suspension of a few minutes for consultation. We need some time of consultation." What he meant was that he wanted to make a phone call to his prime minister.
"How long?" Merkel asked.
The chairman, Rasmussen, made the decision. "We meet again (at) half past four. Forty minutes."
Decisions Made Elsewhere
But the meeting did not reconvene. The key decisions were made elsewhere -- without the Europeans. The Indians had reserved a room one floor down, where Prime Minister Singh met with his counterparts, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and South Africa President Jacob Zuma. Wen Jiabao was also there.
Shortly before 7 p.m., US President Obama burst into the cozy little meeting of rising economic powers.
At that meeting, everything that was important to the Europeans was removed from the draft agreement, particularly the concrete emissions reduction targets. Later on, the Europeans -- like the other diplomats from all the other powerless countries, who had been left to wait in the plenary chamber -- had no choice but to rubberstamp the meager result.
There is one politician who thought a great deal about his experiences in the Arne Jacobsen room in December 2009: Mexican Environment Minister Juan Elvira Quesada. His country will host the next major climate summit this November.
In Copenhagen, Quesada learned that the existing procedure is ineffective. "When more than 190 countries are supposed to reach a consensus, it's simply too complicated," he says.
At the November meeting in Cancun, he says, he would prefer not to even touch the document that was painstakingly drafted in that small group of world leaders. "If we were to simply move forward with the Copenhagen paper, it would be a disaster."
*Eds Note: In the print edition of DER SPIEGEL, the comments from the Indian negotiator were attributed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Merkel's Chancellery attributes this and following comments to a low ranking Indian negotiator.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit
- Part 2: 'We Need Some More Time'
- Part 3: Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back