COPENHAGEN -- The global effort to combat climate change is stuck in essentially the same place after a massive United Nations summit that it was before the confab: with major emitters deadlocked over how much each of them should have to do to curb the rising output of greenhouse gases.
The two-week summit, billed as an event that would usher in an era of global cooperation against global warming, crashed into the same reality that has slowed the shift to cleaner forms of energy in the U.S. and around the world. Fossil fuel is cheap and convenient. In places where its use is growing most rapidly, its production of heat-trapping gases is widely viewed as less important than its boost to economic growth.
That explains why officials from some of the world's fastest-growing producers of greenhouse gas -- China and India -- resisted calls in Copenhagen to cap their emissions, though they said they would continue a range of domestic environmental initiatives that they see as in their economic interest. Their reluctance, in turn, minimized the environmental steps that industrialized countries were willing to take.
Far from resolving the issue, the Copenhagen conference set up months more of international haggling over what to do about climate change.
Rifts among the U.S., China, Europe and a divided group of developing nations resulted in a near breakdown of talks during the summit attended by representatives of some 200 nations. The conference ended Saturday after a fractious all-night debate over an agreement that has no legal force, is vague on crucial details and will require further rounds of diplomatic bargaining to make much of an environmental difference.
The nonbinding final statement, produced in a flurry of last-minute bargaining led by President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, received a tepid endorsement after hours of angry exchanges among diplomats, many of whom complained that the final agreement was made without their participation.
The statement said countries would "enhance our long-term cooperative action to combat climate change," but it didn't obligate any country to meet a specific emission-reduction target.
Mr. Obama said late Friday the deal is "a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough.... For the first time in history all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change." He left before the final vote to try to beat a snowstorm that pounded the Washington, D.C., area this weekend.
The Copenhagen Accord did produce a pledge by rich countries to send billions of dollars to the developing world to help it cope with the effects of climate change and to put in place lower-carbon technologies. Industrialized countries said they would provide funds "approaching" $30 billion over the next three years and "commit to a goal of mobilizing" $100 billion annually by 2020.
Yet no one offered details on where that money might come from. Some analysts said the $30 billion pledged appeared mainly to restate previous offers from rich countries.
As for the $100 billion a year by 2020, U.S. officials said the vast majority of it would come from the private sector, in particular through the buying and selling of "carbon credits," and not from government coffers.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), on ABC News's "This Week" Sunday, raised questions about the pledge by rich countries. "Neither the president nor the secretary of state can go to Copenhagen and make [such] commitments... without Senate confirmation or ratification of such a treaty," he said. "The Senate will have to act on this, and there is not the support right now for that."
Copenhagen's messy outcome raised questions about whether the U.N. process can produce an agreement to seriously slash greenhouse-gas emissions.
"The United Nations has shown why it can't cope with trying to reach consensus among 193 countries on a way forward, particularly for an issue requiring far greater urgency," said Abyd Karmali, global head of carbon markets for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Though the U.N. might be able to deal with technical issues of carbon finance, a narrower multilateral group -- such as the Major Economies Forum, a concept hatched by former President George W. Bush and ramped up by Mr. Obama -- "has much more potential for being a forum to deliver effective results" on a broad climate deal, he said.
U.N. climate talks will tumble now into a series meetings. U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon and many other negotiators said Saturday they hoped to hash out the specifics by the next big annual U.N. climate summit, scheduled for late next year in Mexico.
Mr. Ban noted that the pact gives countries until Jan. 31 to list, in an annex to the accord, voluntary pledges to curb their emissions. Several major economies -- including the U.S., China, the European Union and Brazil -- made such pledges ahead of the Copenhagen conference.
Those pledges fall short of the cuts that many scientists have said would be necessary by midcentury to avoid potentially dangerous consequences from climate change.
U.N. officials will work to turn the pact "into a legally binding treaty," Mr. Ban said. "We will do our best to do it in 2010." But because the Copenhagen statement isn't binding, it needn't form the basis of any future negotiations.