03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Climate Deal Sealed. Sort Of.

COPENHAGEN - A deal of sort has been sealed in Copenhagen. At 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon - 21 full hours past the original deadline on Friday at 6 p.m. - the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference officially came to a close.

This comes after a full around-the-clock day, and for others, weeks, of bilaterals, multilaterals, and many other laterals, which saw the parties acknowledge a 12-clause political declaration brought on by President Obama.

Copenhagen Accord, as the 3-pager is called, was introduced by President Obama, deliberated on by leaders from China, Indian, Brazil, and South Africa in a closed-door, invite-only session, heavily criticized by the rest of the international community, only to garner tacit consent a few hours later by the rest of the constituency.

It is still too soon to take full stalk of the failures and successes of Copenhagen. Whether this Accord will pave a path for a legally binding treaty in 2010, or will go down in history as that moment of misfortune when good stewardship lost way to the divisions of the past, remains to be seen.

In a hastily arranged press conference, as many others still navigated that terrible space between decision and indecision, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso stated following:

"This accord is better than no accord. This was a positive step, but clearly below our ambition. We have to be honest when we analyze this result. There are good things and not so good things. I will not hide my disappointment regarding the ambition in terms of the binding - or non-binding nature of the future agreement. In this particular agreement, the text today falls far short. Quite simply, all level of ambition has not been met. Especially, there was not an agreement on the needs to have a legally binding agreement. And this is, of course, a matter of concern for us."

What Barroso and many of the Copenhagen Accord critics point out is a glaring lack of numeric expressions. There are no mentions of mid-term targets for carbon emission reductions. The 2010 deadline to reach a legally binding treaty has been dropped. Nowhere in the text does it reference the $100 billion of climate fund assistance that Secretary Clinton announced. It is, of course, not legally binding.

Despite an overwhelming sense of disappointment, there are areas where praise is due. Within minutes of the gavel coming down to signal the "taking note" of the Copenhagen Accord, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon addressed the press pool on "only two hours of sleep in 48 hours." Secretary Ban stated that, though the Accord may be weak, it is a step in the right direction. He pointed out that ours is a political agreement that takes immediate and operational effect. Highlighting the complex, difficult, and unprecedented nature of the talks, Secretary Ban urged people to give weight to the fact that this is the first ever United Nations agreement of its kind, and that perhaps, observers should tread lightly, the terrains of harsh criticism.

Climate chief Yvo de Boer echoed these sentiments. In spite of its non-binding nature, the Copenhagen Accord holds political significance. It may not be a legally binding treaty as hoped for in Bali, nor is it a plan that sets out the contours on how to get to such an agreement, as hoped for in Bonn and Barcelona. But it is still a letter of intent, and one that was born over the span of 2 years upon 9 official UN meetings, countless informal meetings, discussions, spats, and chats.

Yet the wish list for a just and equitable climate protocol remains as challenging as ever. The to do list before, or leading up to, Mexico City - where the next climate talks is taking place - is as follows:

The international community must see to it that a legally binding treaty under the Convention be signed. Developing countries should be made to sign on to emissions cuts, while the United States must be made to reenter the discussions in a meaningful way. Mid term goals for 2020 must be defined in order to honour these targets. A financial architecture strong enough to mobilize resources for technology, adaptation, and capacity building must be erected. And all of this should be agreed on through a consensus of over 190 member states.

Many have called the Copenhagen talks a disaster, chaos, and a holocaust. Some have challenged the legitimacy of the United Nations and its role as a facilitator on global issues. Yet a system that offers equal weight to Vanuatu and the United States, one that values transparent office, fair process, and inclusiveness in dialogue, one that seeks peaceful solutions to seemingly irreparable problems, just might be one worth keeping around. At least until the next climate circus, that is.