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

Copenhagen Climate Change Marathon: Leaders and Lawmakers Negotiate in the Final Hours

COPENHAGEN - The Copenhagen game of tag-in-the-dark enters its eleventh hour. With over 100 heads of states arriving in the next few hours, negotiators of some 200 countries are gearing up for the last remaining miles of this two week marathon.

The Copenhagen wish list has shrunken slightly, down from a legally binding treaty to a comprehensive operational agreement that will lay the groundwork for said legally binding treaty.

Despite shifting expectations, a mass contingent of United States' senators, secretaries, and speakers flew to Copenhagen this week in hopes of expanding on the good will of the American leadership.

United States Senator, and co-author of Boxer-Kerry Climate Change Bill, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was first to arrive in Copenhagen among his Washington contingent, delivering a speech mid-afternoon Wednesday that earned him a standing ovation. Citing that 33 of the 50 American states have voluntarily signed up for compacts to reduce carbon emissions, Kerry called on the United States leadership to "deliver what is necessary and demand what is needed."

In a speech reminiscent of President Obama himself, Kerry urged the wealthy to forego their "addiction to the status quo" in favour of a political agreement containing the following necessary elements: global emissions reduction targets, commitment by all countries to take action, reference to the Bali Action Plan, commitment to REDD, nod to the urgency of science, and last but not least, that ephemeral quality of the "determination to get the job done."

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton continued this show of American support. Dressed in persimmon orange, Clinton took to the podium - an unusual gesture at a press conference where the norm is to sit behind designated seats on the table - and delivered what many now suggest to be a critical turning point in climate talks. Acknowledging the need to provide assistance for nations most vulnerable and least prepared, Secretary Clinton announced that the United States would contribute to the international climate fund of $100 billion by 2020 for assistance to, again, the poorest and the most vulnerable.

Clinton made few more references to the plights of the developing countries, even venturing into the Nixon-territory of quoting a Chinese proverb. In pursuit of a strong operational accord, Clinton called for commitment that would pay homage to the relative responsibilities, one in which developed countries' financial assistance is met with developing countries' transparency mechanisms.

Second in line of succession, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke some time later the same day. Arriving with an entourage of senators and house committee chairs, Pelosi began her speech by expressing concern over the next generation.

She went on to add that climate change must be considered a national security issue, and punctuated the speech with a thoughtful remark on the interconnectedness of climate change to health, poverty, and how women play a strong role in addressing these concerns.

The picture that Kerry, Clinton, and Pelosi painted is rich in the classic can-do optimism that America was founded on. But political discord remains.

Kerry urged the United States to be prepared to do more. Yet when pressed to identify what concessions he is willing to make, the senior senator from Massachusetts remained silent.

Clinton appeared to purport her pledge to contribute $100 billion to the climate fund by 2020, a momentous gesture worthy of an equal measure of acknowledgement. Despite the wildly positive reception of this financial commitment though, the official Chinese response to the matter was tepid at best.

Pelosi announced her willingness to exert her political capital to make headway on the issue. She even gave IPCC Chairman Doctor Pachauri a bear-hug and called him an old and dear friend.

Despite the House Speaker's admirable intentions, U.S. legislators back on Capitol Hill do not stand in perfect unison with her on how to address climate change; the Waxman-Markey bill has yet to make significant advancements in Congress.

Amidst the polarizing context in which negotiations on climate change are taking place, hopes of producing a legally binding treaty on the issue has long been replaced with that of a political declaration. This "face-saving text," as the British Guardian labels it, would be around two pages long and outline a 6 month timeline to reach consensus on numbers and the right modifier.

Secretary Clinton quoted the Chinese proverb, "When you are in a common boat, you have to cross the river peacefully together."

Today, at this rare moment in history, world leaders have the opportunity to chart a new global path to a greener and greater world.

Coordinating the rowing has already taken quite some time, but if there was ever a good point in history to set aside our grievances, that time is now. Leaders must raise the proverbial oars together, because we have but one boat, and this river but runs in one direction.