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Peter Dejong  /  AP
The driver of a luxury sedan of the Bahamas delegation exits his vehicle outside a hotel in the center of Copenhagen on Tuesday.
updated 12/16/2009 10:16:03 AM ET 2009-12-16T15:16:03

If they fail to reach a climate deal in Copenhagen, world leaders flying in their private jets and huddling in five-star hotels will have little to show for their efforts beyond a big, fat carbon footprint.

The U.N. estimates 40,500 tons of carbon dioxide will be pumped into the atmosphere during the 12-day conference — 90 percent of it from flights. The rest comes from waste and electricity related to transport to and from the conference center and lodging in and around the Danish city.

Most of the leaders were flying either on commercial airlines or government-owned jets and Sweden was one of the few to announce plans to offset those aviation emissions — something it does routinely. Most are doing nothing to boost their green credentials and some saw no reason to treat their trip to the U.N. climate talks any differently.

"This prime minister is the last person in India or maybe even the world to do anything for effect," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's spokesman Harish Khare. "It'll be a normal visit, like any other visit by the prime minister." Singh was scheduled to travel in a private jet to Copenhagen for security, his office said.

Those traveling on commercial flights include Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Finnish President Tarja Halonen.

Barack Obama is traveling on Air Force One, French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his special Airbus and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on a presidential jet nicknamed "Aerolula."

Travel by train
A handful of Europeans made a point of taking the train, like the environment ministers of the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Few environmentalists at the conference made an issue of the carbon footprints from more than 100 world leaders. They were more worried that governments are failing to make progress on reaching a global climate pact.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg — who often gives green advice to Norwegians — was criticized at home, however, for deciding to take a private jet from Oslo to Copenhagen rather than one of the 17 shuttles that daily make the hour-long run between the two Scandinavian capitals.

"If he tells everybody to take the bus, take the train, stop wasting energy, then you'd have to expect Stoltenberg to sacrifice something too," said Oerjan Holm, vice president of the Norwegian Conservation Society.

A statement from Stoltenberg's office said he decided to travel by private jet because he wanted the "flexibility" to match the somewhat unstable schedule of the climate conference. It added that the government buys carbon credits at the end of every year to offset the prime minister's air travels.

Some activists said leaders should at least find ways to make their trip more sustainable, especially if they aren't serious about reaching a deal.

"There is an obsession by world leaders to be able to come in here with big entourages on their special airplanes, land at the airport and be driven in big limousines, with bigger entourages," said Asad Rehman, spokesman for the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

"What they should be looking at is how they could travel here with the minimal carbon impact that they can have," he said. "But also, more importantly, are they coming here to actually sign a deal and make a deal that will save both the people and the planet? If they're coming here with an empty pocket and empty promises, then they should stay at home."

Susan Burns, the chief executive officer of the Global Footprint Network, a California-based sustainability research institute, said it would be wrong to scale back negotiations over concerns about carbon emissions, especially with so much work to be done.

Greenhouse gas factors"They should have a Copenhagen every month until they figure this out," Burns said. "We need to spend our carbon very wisely. And getting world leaders together and locking them in a room while they get this done is one such investment, as is investing it in the economy of the future."

Climate summits, which attract thousands of delegates and are often held in far-flung or glitzy locations like Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro, are easy targets for critics.

The last big climate conference, in 2007 on the Indonesian island of Bali, blew through 47,000 tons of carbon — equal to the daily emissions of Marseilles, one of the biggest cities in France. Delegates were criticized for running their air conditioners as they chatted in beach-side villas.

This time, it's the idling limos waiting in subzero temperatures to shuttle delegates between their hotels and the conference center.

Organizers from the Danish government said they were doing everything they could to minimize the conference's carbon footprint.

They have reduced emissions 20 percent through a number of energy efficiency measures, promoted public transport, encouraged hotels to provide environmentally certified rooms and installed efficient lighting in the conference center, according to Jan-Christoph Napierski, who heads conference logistics for the Danish Foreign Ministry.

They are offsetting the rest of the emissions by investing in a program to upgrade antiquated brick kilns in Bangladesh with the help of the World Bank.

"Bangladesh is one of the countries hardest hit by climate change and there's a great need to assist the country with technology and capital contributions," said conference president Connie Hedegaard. "In addition, the project will result in significant environmental improvements for the local community, where particle pollution from the existing old brick works is clearly visible."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Taking aim at global warming

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  1. Reporters, photographers and television crews gather around a TV monitor to listen as U.S. President Barack Obama address delegates at the final day of the UN Climate Change Conference on Friday, Dec. 18, in Copenhagen, Denmark. President Barack Obama plunged into an unscheduled meeting Friday with representatives of nearly 20 nations as world leaders, pressed for time, struggled to reach an agreement on how to curb heat-trapping gasses. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a plenary session at the Bella Center in Copenhagen on Friday. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A German climate activist cries as her hair is cut outside the venue of the Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark on Friday. (Jens Dresling / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Snow and ice are cleaned off a globe on Dec. 17 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The globe is part of an art exhibit set up as nations here seek an agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (Pawel Kopczynski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protestors with a group called Lobbyists for Profitable Climate Solutions, one holding fake dollar bills, another holding a sign reading "Stop Global Whining," heckle other demonstrators near the venue of the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen on Dec. 16. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Danish riot police push back protestors outside the venue of the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 16. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A demonstrator hit by pepper spray receives help outside the U.N. talks on Dec. 16. Hundreds of climate demonstrators marched to the summit venue to show their anger over the slow progress being made by nations towards a climate deal. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A police officer uses his baton on activists trying to get into the U.N. talks on Dec. 16. (Pawel Kopczynski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An activist shouts at police as he and others try to get into the U.N. talks in Copenhagen on Dec. 16. More than 200 people were arrested when they overran the police barricade to the summit conference hall. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A Danish riot policeman clubs an activist who climbed on top of a police vehicle outside the U.N. talks on Dec. 16. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An officer wipes his eyes after police used pepper spray against protesters on Dec. 16. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) activists plant hand-shaped signs with the words "Tackle climate change!" outside the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, on Dec. 16. (John Macdougall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Several hundred government delegates and environment ministers from around the world attend a plenary session on Dec. 16. The success of the U.N. climate conference is hanging in the balance as China and the U.S. deadlocked over whether Beijing will allow the world to check its books and verify promised cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Greepeace activists scale Australia's Sydney Opera House on Dec. 15 to make a climate statement urging nations to reach a treaty agreement. The activists were later arrested and charged with trespassing. (Dean Sewell / Greenpeace via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. In Copenhagen, Denmark, climate activists have held daily rallies, including this one on Dec. 15. Copenhagen is the host city for the U.N. Climate Change Conference. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Riot police clash with climate activists in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. Between Dec. 12 and 14, police arrested nearly 1,300 activists. (Yoan Valat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 14 check out a mock ark meant to symbolize the lack of a backup plan if nations fail to agree to a climate treaty. One consequence of runaway warming would be rising seas and widespread flooding. (Michael Reynolds / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Several hundred protesters march during a climate protest in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. (Anders Debel Hansen / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Climate activists shout slogans during a march in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks at a presentation Dec. 14 on melting Arctic ice at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A member of Greenpeace demonstrates during a 'Climate No Border' protest in Copenhagen on Dec. 14. The activist is dressed as 'Death', one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. People get ready before the start of a 'Climate No Borders' march together with several hundred protesters in Copenhagen. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Activists dressed as polar bears stage a protest at the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen. (Heribert Proepper / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A protester looks out from inside a police vehicle following her arrest in Copenhagen on Sunday, Dec. 13. Ministers from 48 countries met behind closed doors amid fresh protests a day after police arrested nearly 1,000 demonstrators. (Andreas Hillergren / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Archbishop Desmond Tutu gestures while speaking on stage during a "Time for Climate Justice" public event at Radhuspladsen in Copenhagen. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. With emissions from a local factory behind it, a take-off on the Statue of Liberty that was erected by climate activists stands tall on Dec. 12, near the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Climate activists taking part in a mass rally in Copenhagen on Dec. 12 hug a police officer standing guard. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Police in Copenhagen on Dec. 12 arrest some of the tens of thousands who marched downtown. (Dresling Jens / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. More than 600 people were detained as night fell in Copenhagen on Dec. 12. (Mads Nissen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A large globe featuring an interactive display sits in a central square in Copenhagen on Dec. 10. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. In New Delhi, India, activists on Dec. 10 prepare to release sky lanterns to express their hopes for the climate conference. (Manish Swarup / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A demonstrator taunts Danish riot police during a protest in Copenhagen on Dec. 11. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. This ice sculpture of a polar bear set up in Copenhagen had nearly melted by Dec. 10. (Christian Charisius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. This coal-fired power plant in Macedonia, seen on Dec. 10 as pigs feed on a nearby trash dump, is one of thousands around the world that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide. (Ognen Teofilovski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Delegates gather on Dec. 10 before a plenary session at the 12-day U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Activists dressed as aliens on Dec. 10 roam the halls where the U.N. climate summit is being held. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A woman walks past one of the dozens of exhibits at the climate summit on Dec. 10. (Axel Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Thick smoke from a coal-fired oven fills the air in this neighborhood of Calcutta, India, on Dec. 9. Coal burning is a key source of manmade carbon dioxide emissions. (Parth Sanyal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Climate activists throw lifesize inflatable dolls into the reflecting pool on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 9. Wearing t-shirts that say "CO2 Kills," the dolls are supposed to represent people who die from climate-related illness. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. This balloon with a message sits near Copenhagen’s City Hall on Dec. 9. (Axel Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Iceberg B17B, top left, floats in the Ross Sea near Antarctica after it broke off from the Ross Ice Shelf nearly 10 years ago. The monster iceberg, at 12 miles long and 5 miles wide nearly twice the size of Hong Kong, has been slowly drifting toward Australia in what scientists call a once-in-a-century event. It is now about 1,100 miles southwest of Australia. Accelerated glacial and ice shelf melt and collapses have been tied to global warming. (Australian Antarctic Division / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, speaks at a news conference at the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen on Dec. 9. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Climate change conference participants walk in front of a display of pictures on Dec. 9 in the Bella Center in Copenhagen, the venue of the 12-day meeting. Negotiators at the U.N.-organized marathon sought to calm emotions after developing countries blasted an early draft proposal that they said favored rich carbon emitters and sidelined the poor. (Attila Kisbenedek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A man walks through heaps of ash outside a thermal power plant in the village of Doburjian in the northern Indian state of Punjab on Dec. 9. A 20 percent cut in greenhouse gases by rich nations would be a "pretty good" result for a U.N. climate summit, even though it falls short of developing nations' hopes, the head of the U.N. climate panel said during the meeting’s opening days. (Ajay Verma / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Members of environmental activist group Greenpeace unfurl a banner from Rome's Colosseum on Dec. 9. (Tony Gentile / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Emissions-producing diesel trucks and cars pass non-polluting windmills that stand along the I-10 freeway near Banning, Calif., on Dec. 8. Sustained global warming shows no sign of letting up, according to a new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization and made public at the climate talks in Copenhagen. Although global temperature fluctuates from year to year, overall the decade of the 2000s is likely the warmest in the last 150 years covered by the report. This decade is warmer than the 1990s which were warmer than the 1980s, and so on. The conclusions are in line with independent analysis by the National Climatic Data Center and NASA. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Delegates answer journalists' questions in front of the Bella Center in Copenhagen on the second day of the U.N. climate conference on Dec. 8. Talks hit turbulence on their second day, as developing countries, green groups and activists attacked an early draft of a compromise deal proposed by Denmark, the conference chair. The leaked document – dated Nov. 27 – was criticized as a backroom deal that favored rich countries on the key issues of emissions curbs and financing. (Jens Nørgaard Larsen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. An activist outside the climate summit in Copenhagen on Dec. 8 makes a point about Europe not retreating from its aggressive targets for CO2 emissions reductions. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Mankind's reliance on fossil fuels, including these commuters in Taipei, Taiwan, on Dec. 7, is tied to the sharp increase in CO2 since the start of the industrial age. (Nicky Loh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Global actions to lobby for curbing greenhouse gas emissions include this rally by children, some dressed as trees, in Sidon, Lebanon, on Dec. 8. (Str / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. This globe is part of the "Cool Globes" art installation on display in Copenhagen during the climate talks. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. This furnace is part of a steel plant in Kazakhstan. The 1960s-era factory is Central Asia's biggest steel producer -- and one of its biggest emitters of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. (Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Commuters walk beneath a "Hopenhagen" banner in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. The climate summit is not expected to live up to original expecations of a global climate treaty with mandatory emissions reductions. That is now being talked about as a 2010 goal. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. In London, England, activists camped out in Trafalgar Square over the weekend of Dec. 5 after taking part in a mass march through the city. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Power stations like this one in Hadera, Israel, have been a part of economc development but they are also key sources of CO2. (Yehuda Raizner / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. People watch an illuminated "CO2" cube in the water of St. Jorgens Lake in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. The cube represents the amount of carbon dioxide produced by an average person in one month. (Pawel Kopczynski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. Workers cut down trees as part of a road extension project in the southern Indian city of Chennai on Dec. 7. Officials at the climate talks in Copenhagen warned of the dangers of desertification and rising seas. (Babu / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Sculptures are illuminated as they stand in water outside the climate conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Demonstrators block the entrance of Chevron Corp. in San Ramon, Calif., on Dec. 7 to coincide with the climate talks. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Journalists at work Dec. 7 at the climate conference in Copenhagen. Some 100 world leaders are expected to gather at the historic meeting on Dec. 18. (Keld Navntoft / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. The U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, left, and John Ash, chairman of a key summit committee, listen to a reporter's question at a press conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 6. De Boer held out hope for concrete action to curb emissions, but few expect a new treaty to replace the existing 1997 Kyoto pact. (Larsen Claus Bjørn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. Garbage is scattered across a ship repair yard in Mumbai, India, on Dec. 3. Rising seas is one issue before the climate conference in Copenhagen. (Arko Datta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. A cyclist stops to look at one of the "Cool Globes" in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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