COPENHAGEN - COPENHAGEN (AP) — President Barack Obama plunged into an unscheduled meeting Friday with representatives of nearly 20 nations as world leaders, pressed for time, struggled to reach an agreement on how to curb heat-trapping gasses that are warming the planet.
Hours ahead of his arrival, a European Union spokesman said an agreement had not yet emerged to present to leaders. Some delegates grumbled that a final statement was likely to be based on politics and not concrete steps to confront climate change.
Such a political deal would be seen by many as a setback, following two years of intense negotiations to agree on deeper reductions in the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases largely blamed for global warming.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs openly discussed on Thursday the possibility the conference could end up a bust — a kind of lowering of expectations that could be an attempt to inoculate Obama from the fallout, or a negotiating ploy to scare recalcitrant nations into making moves of their own.
Obama planned to spend only about nine hours at the summit. He was to attend formal plenary sessions, deliver brief remarks to the assembly and hold one-on-one sideline meetings with counterparts from Denmark, China, Brazil and Russia.
The morning's multination meeting quickly put Obama behind schedule.
The talks between Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao were being watched especially closely, as sniping between the two countries dominated the summit earlier this week.
With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the main topic was likely to be nuclear weapons. The two nations are negotiating to replace an expired Cold War-era arms control treaty and there had been optimism that a successor pact would be ready for their signing in Copenhagen. That is not expected to happen, and hopes for a deal even this year seem bleak.
The key question: Would the leaders have anything to smile about when they pose for a planned group photo in Copenhagen?
Prospects for an agreement brightened somewhat Thursday after the U.S. offered to join others in raising $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer nations cope with global warming. China responded by moving toward a firm U.S. demand that Beijing and other developing economies make cuts in emissions growth that are open to international verification.
But the mood turned darker Friday, with delegates blaming the U.S. and China for the lack of a political agreement that Obama, China's premier and more than 110 other world leaders are supposed to sign within hours.
Broad disputes continued behind closed doors between wealthy nations and developing ones, delegates said — the divide that from the start has dogged the two-week U.N. climate conference.
Despite calls for the U.S. to increase its promised emissions cut to help reach a deal, Obama wasn't bringing a new proposal.
For one thing, the U.S. emissions-reduction commitment purposely mirrors the legislation before Congress, which calls for 17 percent reduction in pollution from 2005 levels by 2020 — the equivalent of 3 to 4 percent from the more commonly used baseline of 1990 levels and only a tiny fraction of offers from the European Union, Japan and Russia.
Even that target was hard-won in a skittish Congress, and Obama has decided he can't go further without potentially souring final passage of the bill, approved in the House but not yet considered in the Senate. He also could imperil eventual Senate ratification of any global treaty that emerges next year.
Obama also will not be putting a specific dollar amount on Washington's promised "fair share" contribution into a short-term, $10 billion-a-year fund for developing countries, said a White House official involved in the talks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the administration's thinking.
Instead, in his public remarks and private meetings, Obama planned to be an in-person embodiment of his and the United States' commitment to act. He was to lay out his requirements for an agreement, including the transparency demand, and speak in personal terms about the stakes of inaction.