Something doesn’t match up here. Obama was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in part for integrating the American voice into the international climate conversation, yet the US is being blamed for holding the world back from reaching a climate change agreement. Two weeks of teeth-pulling climate negotiations wrapped up in Bangkok yesterday – they ended with delegates from developing countries actually walking out of meetings during the last few days. The claim is that the US and EU are trying to “destroy” the 1997 Kyoto Protocol , which expires in 2012 and calls upon developed countries, but not developing countries (not even big emitters like China or India) to cut carbon. The whole thing turned into a caustic row at the metaphorical family dinner table, and the headlines are dismal:

“Potholes in Road to Copenhagen Climate Accord Widen During Bangkok Talks” (NYT)

 “Bangkok Climate Talks End in Recrimination” (Guardian – and this one is paired with an alarming shot of a distressed Yvo De Boer, exec director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, helplessly pressing his hands to his face during a meeting on the last day of the Bangkok talks)

“UN Climate Talks: rich and poor countries spar on their roles” (CS Monitor)

“US Stance Hinders Progress at Bangkok Climate Talks” (Union of Concerned Scientists)

It would be an understatement to say that we have not set ourselves up well for December’s closing climate talks in Copenhagen (COP15). Depressingly, terrifyingly, world leaders are now predicting a weak agreement, if any, at COP15. Which is to say that they don’t expect any hard numbers to hit the books on today’s two most urgent climate challenges:

  • Specific carbon emissions reduction targets for individual countries, and
  • Agreement on how much money the developed world will put on the table to help developing countries adapt to climate change

And time is running out. Only five more days of international negotiations remain before COP15; Heads of state will meet from November 2nd to 6th in Barcelona, in a last ditch attempt to pave the way to an agreement on emissions cuts and developing world adaptation assistance.  

“The rift between rich and poor has intensified because rich countries have not put serious money on the table to help poor countries adapt to escalating impacts of climate change,” said Oxfam senior climate adviser Antonio Hill. “The US has been silent on the scale of finance it will commit to.”

But many are hanging their hopes on the fact that Obama will now have to travel to Oslo on Dec 10 to receive his Nobel, just after COP15 gets started on December 7. Since Mr. Pres. will be in Scandinavia anyway, he’ll be hard put to come up with an excuse not to swing by the talks. Obama’s attendance alone won’t resolve the root issue: that the US wants a whole new global climate treaty, while developing countries want a refurbished Kyoto so they don’t have to cap carbon. But it sure couldn’t hurt to have our number one, Nobel-winning, pro-saving-the-world super star President weigh in at the most important climate conference ever held. In the history of the world.