Included in the official daily program published at the end of the first week of UN climate talks here in Copenhagen is a 14-page list of speakers for this coming Wednesday and Thursday. All are presidents, prime ministers or high-level ministers whose decision to attend the final days of the meeting are raising high hopes for progress.
"As the same order as ministers arrive, so does political will," said Connie Hedegaard, president of the climate conference, in upbeat remarks at a press conference recapping the first week of work.
NGO observers are wryly saying that the conference is now "doomed to success," meaning two things at once: On the one hand, the presence of so many leaders could be an unprecedented opportunity that makes successful outcomes unavoidable; on the other hand, even if agreements end up weak and lacking in ambition, they will nevertheless be trumpeted as a success by governments loathe to admit failure while standing in the global spotlight.
As late as Friday, observers were pessimistic about the deadlocked and contentious talks, which gave way over the subsequent 24 hours of informal closed-door talks to outcomes that Hedegaard characterized as "very, very productive." Still, she cautioned that good intentions will not be enough, and that the time pressure is enormous with much work left to do.
Government negotiators have gotten as far as they can with each other and are sending the talks up the chain to government ministers, who have now arrived in Copenhagen three or four days earlier than any meeting like this before. They will advance the talks as far as they can before turning over the resolution of final details to arriving heads of government.
Hedegaard is responding to accelerating and unexpected developments with flexibility. Outside the official schedule and obligatory turns at the podium, she is creating space and time to allow world leaders to speak with each other informally to see if they can forge a deal on the "crunch" issues that must be agreed upon at the highest levels.
It will not be easy. The issues are tough and inter-related, and countries that find common ground on one may find themselves separated by a non-negotiable red line on another. And despite long preparation starting four years ago at the climate talks in Montreal, governments are heading into this final week still trying to agree upon a shared vision of what the global emissions reduction target should be and in what year emissions should peak.
Setting emissions targets is the first crunch issue. No less important is the finance issue — what industrialized nations must put on the table to help developing nations embark on a low-carbon pathway of economic development and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The two other primary issues facing world leaders is a clear decision on the legal form the next phase of obligation will take, and the depth and scope of commitments required from developing nations.
Since the U.S. rejected participation in the Kyoto Protocol more than a decade ago, the global economic landscape has shifted dramatically. The Senate would not ratify a treaty that excluded emerging economies, particularly China's, from emission reductions obligations, but now China is at the negotiating table perhaps with even greater leverage than the U.S. as America's largest creditor.
The two chief climate negotiators from the U.S. and China — Todd Stern and Su Wei — have been publicly jousting, and no one is certain what precisely is on display. The most optimistic assessments characterize the trading of barbs as a shadow play meant for media consumption, intended to mask the true nature of the back room talks. Others worry that China may be intentionally keeping a deal out of U.S. reach so that it can proceed unhindered in its own quest of a clean energy future, without U.S. competition. Could it be in China's best interest to give fodder to Republican opponents of U.S. climate legislation? The speculation in the briefing rooms and hallways and after hours parties is endless.