China snubs Obama in Copenhagen

Perhaps Barack Obama saw his arrival in Copenhagen today as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” but it turns out it wasn’t even the moment when nations began to pay attention to him.  While Obama trotted out his familiar exhortation that “the time for talk is over,” the Chinese apparently took him at his word:

“There is no time to waste,” Obama said. “Now I believe it is time for the nations of the world to come together behind a common purpose. There has to be movement on all sides. It is better for us to act rather than talk. ”

But action was hard to find.

A hastily arranged meeting this morning attended by Obama and leaders from a sea of other nations (Russia, Japan, Mexico, England, Germany, France, Colombia, Australia, Denmark, India, Brazil, South Africa, Spain, South Korea, Norway and Ethiopia) yielded nothing. Heads of state say they were unable to dislodge the barriers to a deal all-along:  developed and developing nations cannot agree on the pace of emission control, how to verify pollution cuts are occurring, and who will pay and how much for the inevitable economic dislocations carbon cuts will bring.

Senior Chinese officials — those empowered to make decisions here – boycotted the meeting. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei came mainly as an observer. His  attendance was viewed widely by heads of state as a formal Chinese snub of an 11th-hour push for compromise.

The move signaled China’s go-it-alone approach. China has committed only to reduce its carbon-intensity, a method of pollution control linked to increases in gross domestic product the West finds underwhelming. China has also balked at allowing tougher international verification of its pollution control efforts.

Well, at least the Chinese agreed with Obama.  The time for talk was over for them yesterday.

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy blamed China for the apparent collapse of the Copenhagen conference, but that’s only because no one was listening to them in the first place.  China made clear that it was prepared to discuss carbon intensity, the issue of efficiency in production to reduce carbon emissions from manufacturing and energy production, but not arbitrary reductions in carbon emissions that would stifle economic growth.  China actually has the correct approach, not just for China but for an entire world struggling through an economic crisis.

I warned yesterday that Obama risked his credibility by traveling abroad again and returning home empty-handed … again.  It reduces the impact of presidential diplomacy and makes Obama look desperate.

Of course, Obama also plans to meet with Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev to discuss the stalled START pact, in which the Russians have also balked on verification issues.  The White House doesn’t expect to win any agreement there, either, which makes this a double failure.

Update: The AP has updated its reporting on Copenhagen to include this blast from Friends of the Earth:

Some environmentalists criticized his remarks.

“This speech appears to be more of a face-saving exercise for President Obama than an attempt to unite countries around a truly planet-saving agreement,” said Friends of the Earth U.S. President Erich Pica in a statement.

They changed the headline, too.  It now reads, “Obama urges climate action, offers no new proposals” — which sounds a lot like his efforts on ObamaCare over the last few months, too.

Update II: Here’s a good question from Rob Port — did Obama and Nancy Pelosi jet-pool to Copenhagen?  They didn’t take separate carbon-spewing jets, did they?

Update III: Obama finally tracked down China’s premier for a meeting — in private.  However, no one expects more than a political statement from the conference now:

President Barack Obama and other world leaders took stalled climate talks into their own hands Friday, holding an emergency meeting to come up with a political agreement to salvage a conference marked by deep divisions between rich and poor countries.

But neither Obama nor Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered any new commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions as they addressed the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen. And Wen skipped the high-level meeting, sending an envoy instead. …

Any agreement was expected, at best, to envision emissions-cutting targets for rich nations and billions in climate aid for poor countries, but fall well short of the goal of a legally binding pact. If the political deal is done, it would still be seen by many as a setback, following two years of intense negotiations to agree on new emissions reductions and financial support for poorer nations. …

Delegates filtering out of the predawn discussions Friday sounded disappointed.

“It’s a political statement, but it isn’t a lot,” said Chinese delegate Li Junhua.

“It would be a major disappointment. A political declaration would not guarantee our survival,” said Selwin Hart, a delegate from Barbados speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, many of which are threatened by seas rising form global warming.