Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a tough time defending her record on global warming in Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate. Clinton scrambled to defend a climate deal she helped broker — a deal widely regarded as a failure.
“But I have been on the forefront of dealing with climate change, starting in 2009, when President [Barack] Obama and I crashed a meeting with the Chinese and got them to sign up to the first international agreement to combat climate change that they’d ever joined,” Clinton said during CNN’s first Democratic presidential debate.
Clinton was referring to a 2009 United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen she attended while Secretary of State under President Obama. The Obama administration had hyped up the summit, saying they could get countries to sign onto a legally-binding agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Despite the high expectations that Obama and Clinton could rally the world behind a climate agreement, the summit quickly fell apart and no legally-binding agreement was signed. The summit was widely regarded as a failure, and even Obama was disappointed in the results.
“I think that people are justified in being disappointed about the outcome in Copenhagen,” Obama told PBS’s Jim Lehrer in 2009, “What I said was essentially that rather than see a complete collapse in Copenhagen in which nothing at all got done and would have been a huge backward step, at least we kind of held ground and there wasn’t too much backsliding from where we were. It didn’t move us the way we need to.”
Like virtually every other climate summit, the conference broke down over disagreements of funding and how much carbon dioxide each country should cut. In the end, the U.S. and a group of major developing countries, including China, hashed out a non-binding treaty that did nothing to curb emissions.
In Tuesday night’s debate, however, Clinton spun the disappointing results in Copenhagen into a story about triumphing against the odds. She claimed the deal was significant because it was the first such agreement China had signed onto in its history.
“When we met in Copenhagen in 2009 and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center, because we knew we had to get them to agree to something,” Clinton said during the debate. “Because there will be no effective efforts against climate change unless China and India join with the rest of the world.”
“They told us they’d left for the airport; we found out they were having a secret meeting,” Clinton added. “We marched up, we broke in, we said, ‘We’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and talk about what we need to do.’ And we did come up with the first international agreement that China has signed.”
But getting China to sign onto even a non-binding agreement came at a high cost. As part of the Copenhagen deal, the U.S. and other developed countries pledged to give poor countries $100 billion a year in climate aid by 2020. Rich countries paid poor countries $62 billion in climate aid last year.
And even with billions in promised international wealth transfers, China’s lead negotiator made the point of saying the Copenhagen deals is “not an agreed document, it was not formally endorsed or adopted.”
“And I do think that the bilateral agreement that President Obama made with the Chinese was significant,” Clinton said. “Now, it needs to go further, and there will be an international meeting at the end of this year, and we must get verifiable commitments to fight climate change from every country gathered there.”
Ironically, the Obama administration is at it again trying to get China and India to sign onto a legally-binding climate agreement this year. UN delegates are expected to hash out a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol this December.
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