The results out of Copenhagen don't come close to what is required, what was hoped for, or even what some of those closest to the process thought was possible just a few months ago. The comfort the final agreement brings is small, but real: Things could have ended much worse.

The results out of Copenhagen don't come close to what is required, what was hoped for, or even what some of those closest to the process thought was possible just a few months ago. The comfort the final agreement brings is small, but real: Things could have ended much worse.


Indeed, by the last day of the two-week conference, it appeared the Copenhagen talks on global climate change would end in failure, with no agreement at all. Members of major delegations, including India and China, were at the airport ready to head home when President Barack Obama convinced them to come back for one more attempt.


That last try produced less an agreement than a promise to agree at some unspecified future date. Five nations - the U.S., China, India, South Africa and Brazil - agreed a goal of allowing no more than 2 degrees Celsius of increased global temperatures, set standards for measuring carbon emissions and agreed in general that developed countries will help poorer nations cope with the worst impacts of climate change.


The agreement brought expressions of disappointment from all sides. Poor nations said the wealthiest nations aren't doing enough to help. Island nations said 2 degrees is too much, that their lands will disappear beneath rising sea waters. China and India don't want their economic growth stunted by a crisis brought on by a century of emissions from Europe and the U.S. Americans will accept no agreement that doesn't also apply to the emerging economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America.


Those objections illustrate how difficult it is to bring 193 nations into a single diplomatic process. The crisis is global, but the economic interests are national, and urgent. The closest precedent we can think of for the international climate change conference is the creation of the United Nations - and the power then was clearly in the hands of the nations that had won World War II.


Obama showed strong, effective leadership in getting some agreement out of Copenhagen, and we're certain his labors in this area will continue. But no president can move his country further and faster than its people - and the Congress - want to go. Americans don't yet see the climate crisis as urgent enough to make sacrifices for, and reaching that consensus is made more difficult by an opposition party that seems determined to make Obama fail, no matter what the issue or how risky the consequences.


The domestic argument, and the international diplomacy, must continue, with sustained urgency. Congress must adopt an energy policy creating the incentives that will make the U.S. the world leader in sustainable energy technology. We must be able to show a skeptical world that we will do our share to reduce the emissions that threaten climate stability.


Copenhagen wasn't the end of the race, just a way-station along the route. It was the 15th session of the world climate policy process, with the 16th scheduled next year in Mexico City. The world must build on the momentum from Copenhagen, no matter how slight. Greenhouse gases, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost aren't waiting for people around the world to figure out that we have a problem that cannot be solved unless nations put aside their most narrow interests and work together toward a solution.


The MetroWest Daily News