What are the chances for a new agreement?
Expectations for Copenhagen have diminished in recent months, with the possibility of a legally binding climate deal effectively pulled off the table by several world leaders, including President Barack Obama. But the U.S., China and India have all released proposed emissions reductions goals in the run-up to the summit, injecting new energy into the proceedings.
President Obama also upped the ante on his appearance at Copenhagen when he switched his travel plans to appear on the final day of the summit, Dec. 18, instead of Dec. 9, on his way to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
The outcome of the climate summit now looks likely to be a "political" agreement on a framework and targets for a legally binding deal to be completed in 2010.
Who are the key players and where do they stand on emissions?
The U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, heads the international negotiations on climate change and set the agenda for the summit. He has urged developed countries to set ambitious emission reduction targets, including cutting emissions by at least 50 percent from 2000 levels by 2050 and setting a peak for global emissions in the next 10 to 15 years. Going into the Copenhagen, here is how major players line up:
The United States
The U.S., the second largest contributor of fossil fuel emissions in the world after China, enters the negotiations as one of the only major world powers that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The U.S. Senate has delayed taking up domestic legislation on emissions cuts until next year, so without a domestic policy in place, the U.S. negotiators are considered to be in a tough spot for the summit. However, President Obama proposed a provisional goal for emissions in the run-up to the summit, and has said he believes a meaningful agreement can be reached.
Stated emissions goals: President Obama has pledged a provisional emissions reduction of 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, similar to the energy bills that have been circulating in Congress.
Ray Suarez spoke to climate experts about prospects for the summit in late November:
Industrial-heavy China has the highest level of CO2 emissions of any country in the world, but argues it has not contributed historically to pollution in the same way as developed countries. Along with other developing countries, it is calling on developed nations to take the lead in making deep emissions cuts.
"Developed countries should not make requirements of developing countries that are unreasonable," China's top climate envoy, Yu Qingtai told a news conference in November. "Developed countries should also earnestly ask themselves: 'In solving this problem that I have created, am I keeping my promises and honoring my commitments?'"
Premier Wen Jiabao of China will attend the summit.
Stated emissions goals: China has pledged to reduce the carbon intensity, a measurement of the CO2 that is emitted per yuan of economic activity, of its economy by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels.
The fourth largest contributor of emissions, India enters negotiations having made strong statements this year rejecting binding emissions reductions for developing countries that could hamper economic growth, instead advocating a voluntary approach. India has also talked with concern about the impacts of climate change on the nation's stability and economy. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set to attend the summit.
Stated emissions goals: Similarly to China, India has tied its emissions goal to production, saying it will reduce the ratio of emissions from 2005 levels by 20-25 percent by 2020.
European Union (27 member states)
Five of the top 20 greenhouse gas emitters are European Union members. The EU has been trying to assert a leadership role in the climate negotiations, offering an increase in its emissions targets if other nations are willing to offer similar commitments. It has been stressing the need for an agreement on funding at Copenhagen, to further any chances of a binding agreement in 2010. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso will be at the summit.
Stated emissions goals: The EU has already agreed to cutting emissions from 1990 levels by 20 percent by 2020, but has stated it is willing to increase that target cut to 30 percent if fellow developed countries will pledge comparable levels.
What will be discussed?
The summit will take up the issues key to achieving any future deal, including greenhouse gas emissions targets for developed nations and major developing countries and other climate change mitigations, such as reduced deforestation.
A key discussion may center on financing that could help developing nations make adaptations to deal with the impacts of climate change, such as drought, as well as participate in climate change mitigation efforts. A White House press release on Dec. 4 indicated a pledge by developed countries to provide $10 billion a year by 2012 for these efforts may be possible at the summit.
Copenhagen negotiators will also look at the issues of transferring clean-energy technology between nations and the creation of an international governing body to monitor climate change mitigation compliance.
The Kyoto Protocol, the existing multilateral legally binding agreement in place for carbon emissions, is set to expire in 2012, putting added pressure on the parties to work towards consensus.
The U.S. never ratified Kyoto -- in part because rising economic powers India and China did not face wide-ranging restricting due to their developing country status -- and thus has no international commitment to reduce emissions. A primary goal for negotiations is to have all major emissions contributors participating in climate change mitigation.
How did we get here?
It has been a long and pain-staking road to Copenhagen. The summit is known as COP15 because it is the 15th conference of parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, a 1992 treaty to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was the first ever binding treaty to set a goal for developed nations to reduce emissions--on average by 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The European community and 37 industrialized countries ratified the treaty.
A new legally binding agreement would be the first comprehensive update to the frame work convention in more than a decade. The summit in Copenhagen was intended to be the culmination of two years of negotiations and work laid out under the Bali Action Plan, which was agreed to by more than 180 nations in 2007. But Bali's end of 2009 deadline now seems likely to come and go, with climate advocates setting their sights on 2010.
Sources: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, International Institute for Environment and Development, Pew Center on Climate Change, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, the Earth Institute at Columbia University