Settling for something small rather than a big nothing, President Barack Obama and four peers on Friday brokered a climate policy framework that other nations reportedly agreed to support as the U.N. climate summit here wraps up.
At a news conference before heading home, Obama called the framework a "meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough."
The proposal does not set overall emissions targets or deadlines, let alone establish a legally binding treaty, which had been the expectation for Copenhagen months ago.
“It is going to be very hard, and it’s going to take some time,” Obama said. “We have come a long way, but we have much further to go.”
The president said there was a “fundamental deadlock in perspectives” between big, industrially developed countries like the United States and poorer, though sometimes large, developing nations like China and India.
If the U.N. summit had waited to reach a full, binding agreement, "then we wouldn't make any progress," Obama said. In that case, he said, "there might be such frustration and cynicism that rather than taking one step forward we ended up taking two steps back."
Obama said the five nation's pledges would be "subject to an international consultation" that would allow each country to "show the world what they're doing."
The agreement was reached during a meeting among Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva and South African President Jacob Zuma.
China's resistance to a verification mechanism had been one of the major sticking points for the U.S. during the two weeks of climate negotiations here.
The president had planned to spend only about nine hours in Copenhagen as the summit wrapped up after two weeks. But, as an agreement appeared within reach, he added extended his stay by more than six hours to attend a series of meetings aimed at brokering a deal.
"We are running short on time," Obama had told the summit as the clock was running out on its final day. "There has to be movement on all sides."
Obama and Wen met twice — once privately and once with other world leaders present — in hopes of sweeping aside some of the disputes that have barred a final deal. Officials said the two leaders took a step forward and directed negotiators to keep working.
An important moment that led up to the deal took place when Obama walked uninvited into the second meeting, which was already under way. Later, a senior Obama administration official said that "the only surprise we had, in all honesty, was ... that in that room wasn't just the Chinese having a meeting ... but in fact all four countries that we had been trying to arrange meetings with were indeed all in the same room. ... The president's viewpoint is, I wanted to see them all and now is our chance."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be able to talk about the sensitive diplomatic events of the day.
Late in the evening, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held talks with European leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Asked how negotiations were going as he entered the meeting, Obama replied: "Always hopeful."
"I am leaving before the final vote," Obama added, but "we feel confident we are moving in the direction of a final accord."
Shortly after Obama's announcement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said all countries at the summit had signaled their support for the proposal, although a final vote has not yet been taken.
"The text we have is not perfect," Sarkozy told a news conference in Copenhagen, but "we have an agreement."
He said all countries including China would have to submit written plans for curbs in carbon dioxide emissions by January 2010. And he said that all countries had signed up for a plan to provide developing nations with $100 billion a year in aid by 2020.
The "not perfect" part is what many observers and delegates emphasized in describing the two weeks of talks as failing to meet what they consider modest expectations. Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese ambassador who chairs the bloc of developing countries, called it “extremely flawed.”
“A gross violation has been committed today against the poor, against the tradition of transparency and participation of equal footing for all parties of the convention and against common sense,” he said, complaining that Obama negotiated the pact in one-on-one meetings and a forum of 25 nations.
Delegates of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua also angrily denounced the "Copenhagen Accord", saying it would not help address global warming and was unfairly worked out behind closed doors at the Dec. 7-18 conference.
For any deal to become a U.N. pact it would need to be adopted unanimously at the 193-nation talks.
No treaty to replace Kyoto
The original aim of the two weeks of talks here was to agree to a legally binding treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. But when that became impossible, nations agreed to work towards a treaty next year.
Many delegates had been looking toward China and the U.S. — the world's two largest carbon polluters — to deepen their pledges to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases tied to accelerated global warming. But that was not to be.
China has been criticized for not offering stronger carbon emissions targets and for resisting international monitoring of its actions.
And the U.S. got its share of blame.
"President Obama was not very proactive. He didn't offer anything more," said delegate Thomas Negints, from Papua New Guinea. He said his country had hoped for "more on emissions, put more money on the table, take the lead."
Obama may eventually become known as "the man who killed Copenhagen," said Greenpeace U.S. Executive Director Phil Radford.
But Obama's hands were tied from the beginning since Congress is still working on legislation to set mandatory curbs on greenhouse gases.
Other environmental groups held out hope that a modest Copenhagen deal would create momentum for Congress to pass that legislation.