Secretary of State Clinton and practically the entire House leadership are in Copenhagen for the close of the COP 15 climate talks, and President Obama will arrive tomorrow. But are they arriving to close a deal, or to be caught in the middle of yet another troubled negotiation?

Prior to the arrival of Clinton and the House leadership, the talks where moving sideways. The UK’s climate secretary labeled the talks a farce, with too much bickering on side issues delaying the agreement. Activists were kicked out of the talks in a move that infuriated many.

But Clinton was able to get the talks back on track with a pledge to have the US participate in a fundraising effort to help poor nations adapt to a warming climate:

COPENHAGEN — With time running out on the stalled Copenhagen climate negotiations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave new hope that an agreement might still be reached when she announced Thursday that the United States would help raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to enable poor nations to combat climate change […]

Mrs. Clinton’s announcement signaled the first time the Obama administration had made a commitment to such an extensive financing effort, even though she did not specify the amount the United States would contribute along with other nations. She also cautioned that the United States’ participation was contingent on reaching a firm agreement this week, one that would require a commitment from China about greater transparency in its emissions reporting. “A hundred billion can have tangible effects,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We actually think $100 billion is appropriate, usable and will be effective.”

Clinton said that the US would withhold that support unless China also contributed to the fund.

A bloc of African nations also made a concession, that they would accept a slightly smaller fund from rich nations. Environmentalists seeking a deal seem to be pinning a lot of their hopes on President Obama:

Some environmentalists expressed hope that Obama’s appearance Friday, the final day of the 12-day talks, could help end the two chaotic weeks on a successful note.

“If the pieces are here, President Obama is the only person who can pull them together into an agreement,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “We expect him to do so.”

David Corn writes that Clinton’s appearance certainly changed the dynamic of the summit, but wondered if it would be enough:

Hillary Clinton’s announcement placed pressure on China. There certainly are unknowns about the pledged $100 billion. She only noted it would come from public and private sources. And developing nations—including China—have suggested that this fund should be at least twice this size. But the offer was a major move. Repeatedly in her press conference, Clinton noted that the cash was conditional upon reaching an agreement in which all nations would commit to meaningful emissions curbs and monitoring. “It’s hard to imagine this level of financial commitment…without transparency,” she remarked. She added, “if there’s not a commitment to transparency, that’s a deal-breaker for us.” She was tough, accusing China of backing away from a joint US-Chinese statement released last month in which both nations pledged to apply transparency to emissions reductions efforts […]

There are still plenty of issues at play besides the US-China face-off—deeper emissions cuts from major emitters, a firm limit for the expected global temperature rise, the legal nature of any agreement that comes out of Copenhagen or that is forged down the road. But the tussle between the two economic powers was clogging the pipes. If the American initiative prompts any Chinese movement, there could be space for the summit to produce some sort of imperfect deal.

We shall see if President Obama’s engagement with China bore any fruit in these talks.

UPDATE: Another development – a leaked document from the talks seems to suggest that the final goal of carbon in the atmosphere would be much higher than expected:

If 350 ppm is where we should be headed, 450 is very high risk, and 550 creates unacceptable risk (and damage), the leaked UN documents show that current proposals would lead to a CO2 concentration of 770 ppm by 2100. That global four (okay, 3.9) degree Celsius temperature increase would doom significant coastal areas to inundation, global agriculture to almost inevitable declined productivity due to disrupted weather patterns, huge percentages of species to extinction, and our children (or children’s children) to a much harder existence than would be the case with a FAB (fair, aggressive, binding) climate agreement.

David Dayen

David Dayen