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Copenhagen accord: 'essential beginning' to some, shaky foundation to others

Participants approved a Copenhagen accord that sets out emissions-control objectives, sets a target of less than 2 degrees for global warming, and pledges $30 billion in aid to developing countries. The pact is not legally binding.

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"This is not a perfect agreement," said Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden's prime minister and Eu president. "But this agreement among major players is a start."

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Fast-start financial aid for developing countries

One element that helped the agreement along involved so-called fast-start financial aid to developing countries for adaptation and climate-friendly development. The agreement sets up the Copenhagen Green Fund, into which developed countries will put $30 billion between 2010 and 2012.

If the pact itself leaves many here lukewarm at best about the results, the process does herald a potential change in the way international negotiations are handled, notes Harvard University's Robert Stavin, who heads Harvard's Project on International Climate Agreements.

Heads of government clinched the deal

In essence, the most critical negotiations ultimately were conducted and concluded by heads of government themselves, rather than their ministers.

Indeed, Ban's intervention today in effect acted as a coda to the involvement of such top global politicians. It's a level of engagement seldom if ever seen in any global negotiating forum, adds Robert Orr, the UN's assistant secretary-general for policy and planning.

Usually deals are precooked and leaders smile and sign, he says. This time around, leaders were actively engaged, negotiating in ways they hadn't since their early days as politicians. Leaders were exploring temperature goals with a level of understanding that Mr. Orr says he's never heard before from people at that level.

"Two years ago, I'm not sure that there were but a handful of leaders ... that could have a meaningful discussion on 1.5 versus 2 degrees," he says.

But the talks reopened rifts between rich and poor countries that have flared since the end of colonialization during the last century. It wasn't lost on observers that the deal was struck among countries taking part in Washington's Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy, a legacy of the George W. Bush presidency.

The next, and perhaps more difficult task, is to fill in the blanks and work out language that yields a legally binding agreement, says Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. "We've got to achieve in Mexico ll the things we were supposed to achieve here," he said. That includes a legally binding treaty that embraces the US as well as the financial aid provisions, adequate provisions for technology transfer, and other items that dropped from the screen as one draft accord morphed into another. And he looks for results that ensure the 1997 Kyoto Protocol moves into a second commitment period.

"Basically, the list I put under the Christmas tree two years ago I can put under the Christmas tree again," he says.