Obama's change of Copenhagen plans.
The big overnight news was, but shouldn't have been, Obama's abrupt change of heart in deciding to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen when it matters, on the final day of intense negotiations, rather than the day before he's to receive his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo this Thursday, Dec. 10.
From the start, this looked tacky. It came off as, "I'll be nearby in Norway anyway, so I'll drop by for some face time at the climate-change summit early in the 12-day proceedings, when delegates of NGOs are discussing the global-warming impact of plastic packaging and melting glaciers atop Bolivian mountain peaks. And skip the part at the end where 190 nations decide whether to commit to meaningful emissions cuts that will be a tough sell back home."
Why yesterday's about-face?
The WH was busy yesterday lowering expectations, mindful of Barack and Michelle Obama's last appearance in the Danish capital, which ended with Chicago being eliminating in the first round of the Olympics bidding won by Rio. The response back home was that Obama "lost" the Olympics, which is ludicrous since Rio was the frontrunner all along; the IOC was rightly determined the Games at last have their first South American venue.
The WH did say that recent encouraging signs of movement from China, #1 producer of greenhouse gas emissions, and India, #4, had prompted the reversal. Obama now thinks he might have a role to play in a summit climax that might after all be memorable.
Funny thing, but the news out of Beijing and New Dehli last week was wall-to-wall negative, so far as I could tell - though admittedly I'm untutored in diplospeak. China pretty much declared itself to be leading the developing-world nations in resisting any significant progress. And sure enough India did follow Beijing's lead last week with a statement that it, too, believes the "rich" nations should shoulder most of the burden of emission reductions that could be a drag GDP growth. Thus the predicted stalemate that for weeks has threatened to make Copenhagen a non-event before the proceedings even began. You can see why Obama wouldn't want to be near the place. Then again, not a very constructive attitude from a champion of change on global warming.
So this is all about optics. Gordon Brown, in particular, has aggressively taken the lead among Western nations in pushing for genuine achievements out of Copenhagen. And Sarkozy gatecrashed the recent Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago just to convey his sense of urgency on climate change.
Meanwhile, Obama, whose progressive political base assumes he has climate change high on his agenda, was basically blowing off Copenhagen as a failed enterprise before it started. It likely would please GOP solons if Obama was a complete no-show at Copenhagen - remarkably, they're still in deep denial about the global-warming threat. But for those of us in the reality-based world, Obama's slight regard for the most important global climate-change event on the calendar this year was grating - and he has just decided to remove that thorn from his own paw.
There are risks, of course. The principal one is that Copenhagen will indeed be a bust, Obama or no Obama, and once again he'll return from Scandinavia empty handed (except for the Nobel, of course). But in the end the WH figuring was if the head of state of Burkino Faso was there and his counterpart from the U.S., the #2 greenhouse gas emitter, wasn't, where is this so-called U.S. leadership on global issues Obama's always on about?