One year ago representatives of most of the nations of the world met in Bali to set out a road-map for negotiations for a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocals, which expire in 2012. The resulting Bali Action Plan stipulated that a treaty should be completed by the end of 2009–at a meeting in Copenhagen–so as to give countries enough time to ratify it before Kyoto expires three years later. This week, at the half-way point between Bali and Copenhagen, delegates are meeting in Poznan, Poland to take stock of their progress over the past year.

The position of the United States, which signed but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocols, is critical to the success or failure of this process. When negotiators met in Bali, they rightly judged that any future American administration is likely to be more open to an international climate change treaty than the current occupant of the White House. Thus, the Bali road map left most of the negotiating to sometime after the next administration takes office. This strategy certainly has its merits and makes perfect sense. But it also means that the new Obama administration will join the debate with less than a year to go before the December 2009 deadline. In Poznan this week, there are simmering doubts as to whether or not the deadline can be met.

From the Pew Center on Climate Change

Copenhagen is unlikely to produce a full and final agreement that could be submitted to governments for ratification. A more realistic outcome may be an agreement on the basic architecture of the post-2012 climate framework — for instance, binding economy-wide targets for developed countries, policy commitments for the major emerging economies, and support mechanisms for technology, finance, and adaptation in developing countries. This intermediary agreement could then serve as the basis for further negotiations in 2010 on specific commitments in a full and final agreement.

Even with a fully engaged Obama administration, these negotiations on these specific commitments are not going to be easy. From the Washington Post:

One of the biggest obstacles facing negotiators has been the gulf between the United States and the European Union on the extent to which industrialized countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to avert dangerous warming, and Obama’s arrival goes only partway toward closing that divide. The European Union backs a goal of cutting emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; Obama has called for the United States simply to get back to 1990 levels

In the same Washinton Post article, UN Foundation President Tim Wirth sums up the prospect for agreement at Copenhagen and says it is “‘probably asking too much’ to expect a binding agreement by the end of 2009, but delegates may leave Copenhagen with the ‘building blocks’ in place for a pact, along with ‘an overall agreement in principle’ on how to address climate change. ‘That’s all doable.'” I agree.