U.S. President Barack Obama is seeking to regain momentum for the Copenhagen climate summit, aiming for a "comprehensive agreement" that would spark immediate action even if it falls short of a legally binding treaty.
Mr. Obama's rallying effort came as the Canadian government said failure to conclude a final deal in Copenhagen would further delay the release of Ottawa's long-awaited climate regulations.
After Mr. Obama and other Asia-Pacific leaders sounded a more cautionary tone on the weekend, the U.S. President emerged from a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao Tuesday saying the two sides had agreed to pursue a successful conclusion at Copenhagen next month.
At an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore on the weekend, the leaders acknowledged that time has run out for the conclusion of a final treaty that would include individual-country targets, as well as agreement on how developed countries would help finance mitigation and adaptation efforts by developing nations.
Environmentalists were dismayed that global leaders appeared to be undermining the Copenhagen negotiations and feared they were setting the stage for endless negotiations and for delays by countries in moving forward with their domestic policies.
And indeed, the Canadian government is now indicating its will not release its regulations until late next year, after the conclusion of international talks and U.S. efforts to pass its own legislation.
In a conference call from Copenhagen, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Ottawa does not want to be out of step with an eventual international treaty, or with the American approach.
It could take nearly all of 2010 to translate any political agreement achieved in Copenhagen into a full and binding treaty, said the minister, who is participating in a final round of negotiations before the summit begins on Dec. 7.
"Once the international framework is in place, we have a certain amount of work to do in terms of a continental approach to this. And any domestic policies in Canada would have to fall under an international framework and be consistent with our continentalized approach," he said.
In China, Mr. Obama suggested that the lack of a final treaty should not be used as an excuse for inaction.
"Our aim there … is not a partial accord or a political declaration, but rather an accord that covers all of the issues in the negotiations, and one that has immediate operational effect," he said after meeting with the Chinese President.
"This kind of comprehensive agreement would be an important step forward in the effort to rally the world around a solution to our climate challenge."
He said the United States and China agreed that each would make significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas and would "stand behind" commitments to do so made in Copenhagen.
Mr. Hu emphasized the need for emerging countries such as China to bear a different level of responsibility for reducing emissions, as compared to more developed nations. But he, too, committed to work for a broad agreement at the summit in the Danish capital.
The Obama administration, however, is reluctant to commit to specific targets for emission reductions until the Senate passes a cap-and-trade bill similar to the one approved by the House of Representatives that would reduce emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
He has made it clear he does not want to sign anything in Copenhagen that could be used as political fodder for opponents of the bill in the Senate, which is not expected to vote on the legislation until the new year.
For its part, China is expected to table targets for reducing the rate of growth in greenhouse-gas emissions as its economy expands, but has not agreed to including those targets in a binding, international accord.
The Harper government has committed Canada to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020, but has provided no plan for how it intends to achieve that goal.
Critics in Canada accuse the minority Conservative government of ragging the puck, using the cover of international delays to avoid the tough political battles that would inevitably erupt at home over any serious plan to meet its targets.
"First they say we need a 'made-in-Canada' policy, and now they argue we can't do anything at all without knowing what Copenhagen is going to deliver and the U.S. is going to do," said Dale Marshall, of the David Suzuki Foundation.
"There is plenty that could be done now."
Given that Canada never came close to meeting its emission-reductions commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, Ottawa faces a credibility problem unless it produces a plan to meet its targets, said Jake Schmidt, international climate director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.
"If the Canadians want their commitments to be viewed as serious, given recent history, they need more than just promises, but something meaningful in the way of a plan," Mr. Schmidt said.