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Asia-Pacific leaders agree to shift focus of climate conference

At a Singapore meeting with President Obama and other leaders, the Danish prime minister, who will host the Copenhagen conference, proposes aiming for a political agreement as a preliminary step.

November 14, 2009|By Peter Nicholas

Reporting from Singapore — President Obama and leaders of other Asia-Pacific countries reached a consensus early Sunday that it is unlikely that negotiators can achieve a binding accord to limit climate change at an international conference next month, and should instead focus on a more limited agreement.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who will host the Copenhagen conference, flew to Singapore and laid out a two-step process at a hastily arranged breakfast meeting, according to the White House.

Under his plan, negotiators in Copenhagen would try to reach a political agreement on attacking climate change as a prelude to a later, legally binding accord.

A senior Obama administration official who attended the meeting said, "There was broad consensus of support by the leaders" for Rasumussen's proposal. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Danish prime minister's idea, which he has touted before, reflects a hard-eyed calculation that talks in Copenhagen will founder without an alternative approach.

"I don't think the negotiations have proceeded in such a way that any of the leaders thought it was likely that we were going to achieve a final agreement in Copenhagen, and yet thought that it was important that Copenhagen be an important step forward," said Michael Froman, deputy national security advisor for economic affairs.

Froman said that Obama spoke in favor of Rasmussen's proposal.

Nineteen of the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum were present at the meeting, including Chinese President Hu Jintao. China and the United States are the two largest emitters of the gases that cause global warming.

"There was a realistic assessment . . . by the leaders that it was unrealistic to expect a full internationally legally binding agreement to be negotiated between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days," Froman said.

Negotiations leading to the Copenhagen conference have foundered on disputes between developed countries and those with developing economies. Developed countries want all countries to agree to binding limits on greenhouse gases. Developing countries say they need more flexibility than binding targets would give them, and they need more aid from the wealthiest countries to achieve reductions in emissions.

In his remarks, Obama told his counterparts they face two choices, Froman said. One is to declare that they had tried and failed to reach a deal, but pledge to keep trying. The second is to "see if we could reach the sort of accord that the Danish prime minister laid out that would have immediate operational impact," Froman said.

Asked whether Hu seemed open to the path suggested by Rasmussen, Froman said, "I think he supported the concept of . . . making progress in Copenhagen, the importance of that, and using Copenhagen as a step toward resolving the overall issues."

Obama and other Asian-Pacific leaders are in Singapore for a series of meetings on economic issues. Obama arrived Saturday night and is scheduled to leave today for Shanghai.

The president is in the midst of a week-long tour of Asia, his first since taking office.

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