The second-to-last UN Climate Change Conference of 2009 opened Monday in Barcelona, Spain with a very clear message: get ready to deliver big at Copenhagen. Just one month away, the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, or COP 15, has been billed as the place where humanity will sink or swim; risk dire environmental changes or commit to difficult carbon reduction schemes. This week, the prelude to the future of the world is being performed in Barcelona. Read about it here.

After being held up in the press badge line by the Spanish television press, who turned up in typically aloof style absent any registration materials, many members of the press entered the conference well into the opening speech delivered by Connie Hedegaard, current president of the COP15.

When asked in a press conference following her speech how another political declaration at the international level would really help reduce carbon emissions, President Hedegaard stressed the importance of legally binding agreements in Copenhagen saying that “failure is not an option”.

But the real major obstacle, the Elephant in the room, so to speak, is the United States. Hedegaard took a conciliatory tone toward the nation that killed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 with its refusal to ratify the treaty. A decade’s worth of action on climate change was lost as a result.  

Hedegaard, however, said she has not given up on the U.S.

“We have always been able to count on the U.S. during world crises, whether in World War II or the Cold War, and I have not given up hope that the U.S. will deliver binding targets on emissions,” she said.

Besides America’s history of coming through in a pinch, the President noted it is in America’s self-interest to commit to emissions reductions.

Energy independence is a stated goal of the U.S. and unequivocal American support of a new energy policy at Copenhagen would help to secure investment in an American clean-energy industry.

At one moment, President Hedegaard reminded the room of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. “How can Obama win the Peace Prize and at the same time send an empty-handed delegation to Copenhagen?” she asked.

But it will be extremely difficult for the U.S. to commit to emissions targets in Copenhagen absent legislative backup, i.e. the Congress must act now if the U.S. is to have a credible voice in Copenhagen.

Currently, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are negotiating with their own parties as well as the White House for support on a climate change bill.