Reports: Leaders Strike ‘Meaningful Agreement’ in Copenhagen

BY Jason M. Breslow  December 18, 2009 at 6:19 PM EDT

Update 5:50 pm ET: President Obama said Friday a “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough” had been reached between the U.S., China, India, South Africa and Brazil on a global effort to curb climate change, but said much work was still needed to reach a legally binding treaty. “It is going to be very hard, and it’s going to take some time,” he said. “We have come a long way, but we have much further to go.”

Watch President Obama’s statement here:

Under the proposed deal, targets for cutting carbon emissions will be submitted by each country and attached in an appendix so no new targets were announced. But nations did agree to make mitigation pledges that would limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The agreement also includes a method of verifying emissions cuts, an issue that had threatened to take down the talks because of China’s opposition to international monitoring. While that constituted a breakthrough, the president said a legally binding treaty is still necessary in his vision.

“We should still drive towards something that is more binding than it is, but that was not achievable at this conference,” he said.

On the issue of financing for developing countries’ mitigation efforts, Mr. Obama described the text as providing progress on helping poor nations deal with climate change. Earlier reports projected that the agreement would include $30 billion over the next three years, moving to $100 billion annually from 2020, figures that have been circulating in Copenhagen all week, but were lower than what the EU has said would be necessary for long term financing.

The deal appeared to bypass other nations at the conference, and another round of talks was convened after the president’s statement and departure from the summit. But the president expressed hope that the pact would be adopted by the assembly.

“I am leaving before the final vote,” he said. “We feel confident we are moving in the direction of a final accord.”

Michael Levi, head of the Energy Security and Climate Change program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the NewsHour in an e-mail: “The deal described by President Obama would avert an international political disaster and deliver some important steps forward.”

But, he said,”it is far from a full solution to the climate problem… [and] the actual emissions-cutting steps currently offered, in particular by key developing countries, are probably too weak to meet declared global goals for reducing emissions.” Levi also warned against expecting a legal agreement anytime soon.

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Leaders from the United States, China, India and South Africa have reached a “meaningful agreement” on combating global warming at the Copenhagen climate summit, according to media reports.

“No country is entirely satisfied with each element but this is a meaningful and historic step forward and a foundation from which to make further progress,” an Obama administration official speaking on condition of anonymity told reporters.

While details of the agreement are still trickling out, early indications suggest the agreement provides a mechanism for monitoring and verifying emissions cuts by developing nations, but includes less ambitious reduction targets than some governments were seeking.

“Developed and developing countries have now agreed to listing their national actions and commitments, a finance mechanism, to set a mitigation target of two degrees celsius, and to provide information on the implementation of their actions through national communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines,” the official said.

We’ll have more on the breakthrough on tonight’s broadcast of the NewsHour, including a report from Ray Suarez in Copenhagen. Stay tuned.

With reporting from Talea Miller in Copenhagen.