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Leaders agree Copenhagen will focus on principles, not concrete goals

Asia-Pacific leaders have agreed to abandon any concrete goals for next month's Copenhagen summit on climate change, settling instead for broad statements of principle, Stephen Harper confirmed Sunday.

At the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, the Prime Minister said that December's meeting would not generate any specific targets among nations for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

"There are obviously significant areas of disagreement," he told reporters at the conclusion of the summit.

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But "a broader political agreement is still achievable at Copenhagen, and that's what everybody's aiming for at this point."

APEC leaders adopted a cup-partly-full (or mostly-empty) approach to a Copenhagen accord at an improvised breakfast Sunday morning, hosted by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who will be chairing next month's conference, flew all night to make the breakfast, at which he proposed that all nations sign on to a "politically binding" agreement to reduce emissions, without getting into specifics about national targets.

A more detailed accord would be left to a second meeting next year in Mexico City.

American President Barack Obama concurred with the approach, saying that leaders must not let the "perfect be the enemy of the good."

Mr. Harper said the problem is that the climate change treaty has become bogged down in endless negotiations.

"The document that the various countries have been negotiating contains some thousands - I think it's something like 3000 - bracketed pieces of text," he explained.

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"We probably need to get our negotiators out of this morass of hundreds of pages and thousands of brackets of text and into looking at the big picture and coming to some agreement on some big-picture items."

While those concerned about global warming will be disheartened by the absence of binding commitments, others will take heart that whatever gets signed at Copenhagen will probably be accepted by major developing nations, who have said their economies cannot be straightjacketed by agreements that only more developed nations can afford.

The deferral of a Kyoto-like accord in Copenhagen is a victory for Mr. Harper, who maintains that no meaningful agreement is possible unless all nations agree to participate.

To do otherwise, he argues, would impair Canada's economy without providing any meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Assuming that China and India, especially, sign something, anything at Copenhagen, the Prime Minister's everyone-or-no-one approach will be vindicated.

All will be in, though no one will be able to say what "in" means.

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With a report from The Associated Press

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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