The Search for a Deal Merkel Pushes for Minimum Consensus at Summit

Few expect a far-reaching climate deal to emerge from Copenhagen. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is doing what she can to help erect the political framework for a future agreement. Her experience and the respect she enjoys are proving invaluable.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (c) with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (r) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (l) in Copenhagen.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (c) with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (r) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (l) in Copenhagen.

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It is a day of drama in Copenhagen. Leaders from around the world will spend the coming hours behind closed doors trying to come up with a last minute agreement to unite the world in the battle against global warming. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in the Danish capital to put her much-praised diplomatic skills to the test. US President Barack Obama has also landed, amid hope that his presence can move the difficult talks forward.

But even as the world's most important leaders get down to work, a true climate summit success seems less and less possible.

Merkel was only able to steal about five hours of sleep in the Airport Hilton on Thursday night. She has been in climate talks with other state leaders -- such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- since the early morning hours of Friday. The negotiations lasted well into the night before being adjourned at 2 a.m.

For the first time, a possible path to a solution has been found. Optimism among the negotiators is far from widespread, but the idea is for a draft agreement to be hammered out by some 30 selected countries which will then be presented to the others for approval. This so-called chapeau text is to serve as a binding framework for more detailed climate talks in the coming months -- with the ultimate goal being a conclusive treaty.

International Verification

The chapeau text is to include binding emissions reduction pledges from industrial countries and other large polluters. In addition, the text is to contain billions in financial commitments from rich countries to the developing world to help in the fight against climate change. It is hoped that all countries will agree to a control mechanism -- meaning that each country agrees to allow its progress toward emissions reduction targets to be internationally verified.

According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the paper is to contain the following:

  • The average global temperature is not to exceed 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times. There will be no concrete emissions reduction targets set for either 2020 or 2050. Instead, the paper will include a statement that deep cuts in global emissions are needed.

  • The negotiations are to continue past the summit and should result in one or more agreements no later than 2010.

  • The developing and newly industrialized states are to agree to international monitoring of their CO2 emissions.

  • From 2010 to 2012, the least developed countries are to receive $30 billion (€20.8 billion) to help them combat climate change. The goal is to come up with $100 billion (€69.5 billion) annually for developing countries by 2020.

Merkel intends to play a decisive role in Copenhagen. There is a lot at stake for the German chancellor. For years, she has presented herself as the climate chancellor, both at home and abroad -- a failure in Copenhagen would be a significant setback. But for Merkel, who was once Germany's environment minister, the fight against global warming is more than just an easy field on which to score political points. It is also personal. Rarely does one see her as impassioned as when she talks about the climate. "We have to change our lifestyles," she told delegates during brief remarks in Copenhagen. "We need to reach an agreement."

Born in Berlin

Merkel does not want to see the climate agreement break apart on the shoals of national egos and is doing her best to make sure that doesn't happen. She has the advantage that, due to her background as a physicist and as an ex-environment minister, she has a better grasp of the complex material under discussion than do many other heads of state and government. Her word carries weight. It is partially for this reason that her Italian counterpart, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- who is recovering after having his nose broken in an attack in Milan -- transferred his vote to Merkel.

The idea for a chapeau text was originally born in Berlin. Merkel began looking for allies to move the stalled talks forward soon after she landed in Copenhagen on Thursday. She met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and spoke with Chinese leader Wen Jiabao.

Merkel also held one-to one talks with other world leaders during the dinner with the Danish queen. Then at 11 p.m. she joined 30 top negotiators from various countries at the Bella Center, for a so-called High Level Meeting. Representatives from the biggest industrial nations were joined by negotiators from developing and emerging nations, such as India and the Maldives.

Friday morning is to be spent in similar talks. Merkel return flight to Berlin is planned for 5 p.m, by which time a final text should be ready. Yet observers are pessimistic that this can be achieved. The pledge by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that her country would contribute to an annual aid package of €100 billion for developing nations did give some impetus to the talks. However, the power constellations at the climate summit are still as deadlocked as they have been for months.

Double Negotiations

The developing and emerging nations have always made it clear that they want to see a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. That ensures that for the foreseeable future only the industrialized countries would be legally bound to make CO2 reductions. The US, on the other hand, has made every attempt to avoid being bound by the Kyoto rules. They will only negotiate under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. That is why in Copenhagen many negotiations have had to take place twice.

This entails additional problems that will remain after Copenhagen. The German delegation has suggested aligning the two negotiating strands of Kyoto and the framework convention within six months. However, it is hard to imagine the developing and emerging nations (G-77) agreeing to this.

The drafts for the two final communiqués are far from complete. There are passages running into the high double figures that are still being fought over, according to sources from within the German delegation. For example, China is vehemently opposed to any international oversight of the agreed reductions. The country fears any interference in its domestic affairs.

China has an extremely entrenched negotiating position, Europeans complain privately. The Chinese diplomats have sat in their hotels and sent emissaries to the conference center with very rigid mandates. The Chinese prime minister has not yet entered the Bella Center. He is making other leaders come to him, including Merkel.

'The Negotiations Are Falling Apart'

If the two strands' summit texts are not complete, then it will be difficult to agree to a planned political superstructure. Such an agreement would require a unanimous vote by all 192 states.

The reports coming from last night's top level talks make it doubtful if this is realistic. Shortly before 2 a.m "an important developing nation" had asked to discuss the interim results of the talks with all 192 states. That would mean the de facto end of serious negotiations in Copenhagen, say insiders.

A debate with all the countries present had been prevented in recent days because the fronts had hardened so much. There is, therefore, only a minimal chance of a compromise.

Observers are disappointed. "The negotiations are falling apart," says Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace. "If there is no agreement that a legally binding treaty will be signed in the coming months, then the Copenhagen meeting has failed." At the moment everything points to a non-binding letter of intent. "But we had one of those after the G-8 meeting in July," says Kaiser. "And absolutely nothing came of it."


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