When President Barack Obama was in Oslo last week collecting his Nobel Peace Prize, thousands of officials from around the world were gathered 300 miles away in Copenhagen, trying to craft a climate change agreement. In his acceptance speech Obama made no direct mention of this. He remarked that "the world must come together to confront climate change," but there was not a peep about the nearby efforts in Denmark or his scheduled attendance at the conference this coming Friday. Days later, when Obama delivered his weekly White House address, the subject was not the arduous attempt to reach a climate-saving global pact but passage of a financial reform bill in the House that would create a consumer financial protection agency.
Right now, the massive production under way at the overcrowded Bella Center in Copenhagen could be titled "Waiting for Obama." Negotiations are lagging. China and developing nations are looking for more from the industrialized world: deeper emissions cuts and commitments to spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually to help poorer countries contend with climate change. The United States and Europe seek a deal with binding, verifiable obligations from the major emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, and others). On Monday, African nations, ticked off about a procedural matter with substantive implications, forced the suspension of working groups for a few hours. There are obstacles on top of logjams wrapped in intractable negotiating positions. Can Obama clear space for a breakthrough?