The Copenhagen Protocol: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit

By Tobias Rapp, Christian Schwägerl and Gerald Traufetter

Part 3: Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back

AFP/ Bundesregierung

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."

History Lesson

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.

'Too Complicated'

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

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1. Climate Change & Copenhagen
POPPER 05/05/2010
I have just updated my blogsite http://cleanenergypundit.blogspot.com in the light of a Canadian article to which Burt Rutan has drawn my attention, to the effect the magazine NATURE is about to publish in June a somewhat earthshattering paper to the effect that human CO2 emissions can account only for 1-1.5% of global warming. I quote the article in full as a 'comment' on my blog. The staggering world need for clean energy, of course, remains the same as defined by Buckminster Fuller over 40 years ago -- also blog quoted. The meaning of all things 'climate' from Kyoto to Copenhagen would have to be reviewed -- to put it mildly. "Die Sonne bring es an den Tag". Kind regards, L M Hohmann
2.
BTraven 05/06/2010
Essential is the per-capita emission where China is ranked on position 80 with an emission even below the 3 tonnes per person which are to be achieved to keep the status quo. Why should China give up any growth when it produces just a fourth of carbon dioxide the developed countries generate? The article only shows the naivety with which Mrs. Merkel travelled to Copenhagen. Her argumentation was without any logic. Or was it arrogance which prompted her to think she could have success with such an unfair proposal? http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_co2_emi_percap-environment-co2-emissions-per-capita
3. When even other Europeans notice Germans inability to correctly analyse America
mae 05/08/2010
---Quote (Originally by sysop)--- What really went on at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen? Secret recordings obtained by SPIEGEL reveal how China and India prevented an agreement on tackling climate change at the crucial meeting. The powerless Europeans were forced to look on as the agreement failed. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,692861,00.html ---End Quote--- A very interesting article in the Economist commenting on Der Speigel's inability to comprehend/understand/analyse the USA. Apparently the urge to scapegoat the USA is so great for Germans they always get it wrong. ******************************************************** THE GERMANS DON'T UNDERSTAND OBAMA ONE of the most fascinating things about Der Spiegel's account of the crucial last-minute negotiations at Copenhagen to reach a climate-change accord last December is its attempt to characterise Barack Obama's intervention. Der Spiegel headlines his intervention "Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back". To any American observer, this is vintage Barack Obama, AND DER SPIEGEL'S CHARACTERISATION IS OFF -BASE, MR OBAMA DIDN'T "STAB THE EUROPEANS IN THE BACK". He recognised that the meeting was not going to produce a hard emissions target, and he decided to shoot for whatever agreement could be reached. In any case, the tone of Der Spiegel account suggests that while Europeans may like Mr Obama, they don't really know him very well. ************************************************************ http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/05/climate_change_negotiations PS: I wish the Economists would reveiw those hilarious Der Speigel articles about the Tea Party & Arizonia which were equally off-base as well. Gabor is lucky his masterpieces on the US elections were not reviewed by the Economist. PS: I disagree with the Economist's last sentence. No the Germans understand Obama very well but the need to scapegoat the USA is so great, its a reflexive automatic reaction, the truth be damaned.
4. Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back
xyz_pdq 05/08/2010
How can any journalist - but especially a reporter for der Spiegel - use the phrase "Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back"? Wasn't it claimed that the Weimar government who stabbed Germany in the back at the end of WWI? Who was it that made that claim? It seems carelessly dramatic to use such a phrase.
5. China and India deserve gratitude
Craig Goodrich 05/09/2010
Now let me get this straight. In less than a decade, Europe has managed to utterly devastate vast swaths of its precious countryside and wildlife habitat with hideous phalanxes of turbine monstrosities, which produce no useful power whatever and destroy household budgets with increased electricity rates and national budgets with tax breaks and subsidies -- all of which winds up in the pockets of international financiers. This is done on the basis of fairytale predictions from computer models so bad that the actual source code is never released, processing data that is so unreliable that the original versions cannot be reconstructed, based on a scientific theory that was improbable to the point of absurdity when first proposed two decades ago, and which has since been completely discredited by ALL actual measurements. And because India and China refuse to join Europe in jumping off this cliff into La-La Land, THEY are the bad guys? Give me a break.
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