The World from Berlin 'A Small Sign of Hope' from Obama

It is the largest climate conference in history -- and even US President Barack Obama will be there during the key phase of the talks. But given the ongoing battle in the US Senate, German commentators doubt he can promise any more than he already has.
Will US President Barack Obama bring a hope to climate talks in Copenhagen?

Will US President Barack Obama bring a hope to climate talks in Copenhagen?


The United Nations climate change conference kicked off Monday morning in Copenhagen, and expectations are high that diplomats from 192 countries attending the 11 days of talks will be able to hammer out a draft declaration for how the world will take the legal and financial measures to combat climate change.

Coverage of the start of the summit is present on most German editorial pages on Monday. An editorialist writing in the center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung wonders whether the scandal involving hacked e-mails  from Britain's University of East Anglia, in which a leading climate change scientists referred to using a "trick" to help massage temperature statistics, will prevent diplomats from focusing on the issue at hand.

Most other newspapers, however, focus on how US President Barack Obama's decision to change plans and attend the most important final phases of the talks on Dec. 18 -- with almost 110 other heads of state and government -- rather than dropping by on Wednesday, Dec. 9 , might affect the final results. Though most believe that his presence will improve the final outcome of the talks, they warn against believing that he can promise more than what is now in the draft climate legislation being held up in the US Senate.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Even after a year of difficult governing, Obama still seems to have the world convinced that he can walk on water. It's hard to explain in any other way how the announcement that he would participate in the key negotiation phase of the climate summit in Copenhagen has some people dreaming about breakthroughs. At the same time, though, it's basically clear to everyone involved that Obama can't make any more concessions in the end spurt than he could beforehand."

"As long as the US climate law is stuck in the Senate, the president cannot announce any CO2 reductions that go beyond those in the draft legislation. If he promises too much, he runs the risk of showing contempt for the senators and of making the final vote more difficult. Nevertheless, the fact that Obama is participating in the end spurt increases the chances that Copenhagen will bring some progress."

"Directly after it was reported that Obama would be coming to Copenhagen, Beijing announced for the first time the degree to which it plans to reduce the amount of energy its industries use. Obama needs just these types of voluntary commitments -- and more of them -- in order to get his own country to commit to making even greater efforts."

"Still, it's clear that there aren't going to be any more expansive promises related to reducing emissions at this summit. At the moment, it's all about money. How much is a future deal really worth to industrialized countries? And that's a perfectly fine thing to ask. Protecting the environment in an effective way is going to cost a lot, and some estimates put that amount at 1 percent of global GDP. That might sound like a lot, but it's doable. In comparison, bailing out banks cost around 5 percent of GDP. The problem is really much more of a political one."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"Obama's participation will be decisive for either the success or failure of the Copenhagen conference. It's easy to wonder what the US president will promise and, indeed, whether the promises he makes can be kept. Whatever he contributes to setting concrete goals related to how large his country's reductions in CO2 emissions will be will be a pledge on behalf of the US Congress, whose way of making decisions doesn't really allow for these kinds of actions. The law that would impose new regulations in the US is now lying on ice in Congress. And it's not just the Republican minority that is putting the breaks on things; it's also a substantial portion of the Democrats."

"Given the fact that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, many believe that Obama is obliged to be a pioneer. The fact that they are indirectly demanding that he somehow override his Congress because the law will only be debated next year -- and with a still uncertain result -- should provoke some serious thought."

"All of this is a testament to an attitude in the climate debate that goes beyond Obama's dilemma. It's the attitude that says that climate protection promises are always good and that the lower the reduction goals are -- 50, 80, 90, why not 100 percent! -- the better the climate protection promises are. Whether this is realistic is of only secondary importance. And today, let's not spoil the mood by asking whether these kinds of promises will exceed what our economy, our federal budget and our energy bills can handle, whether this all isn't just a little too utopian. And that's something that has been part of the climate debate from the very beginning."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"From the very beginning, it was a bizarre idea that the US president would travel to the climate summit in Copenhagen but would abandon the talks a week before the showdown between the more than 100 heads of state and government in attendance. But now Obama doesn't want to give off the impression that one of the world's largest energy consumers can be that disinterested and irresponsible. So now he has decided to come to the part of the conference in which the most important things will be discussed. That is a small sign of hope. Obama's presence increases the chances that a binding international pact against continuing global warming can come out of all this -- or at least they can set some sort of dependable course for the future."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Some observers view the climate summit in Copenhagen as the most important international gathering of all time. And the politicians participating in the summit have pledged to do everything they can to make sure the summit is a success. Unfortunately, the historical comparisons are not exaggerated."

"Still, expectations were dampened already in the run-up to the summit. Instead of a legally binding international pact, the summit will now only be aiming at a political declaration that will only be made more concrete at some later point."

"Nevertheless, Copenhagen can change something. If almost all of the world's important heads of government come together there, it will be harder to block a consensus or to blame one's own inaction on others' alleged lack of sufficient engagement. And if the whole world is watching, it will hopefully be impossible to sell another non-binding declaration as some sort of success. The world doesn't need another show of politicians expressing rhetorical commitments to climate protection; it needs concrete efforts. Over the next two weeks, we will learn whether politicians have understood the difference between the two. And it's something whose effects we'll be able to feel in the decades to come."

-- Josh Ward
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