The Heritage Foundation’s Steven Groves and Ben Lieberman are live at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference reporting from a conservative perspective. Follow their reports on The Foundry and at the Copenhagen Consequences Web site.

Rather than the much anticipated (by environmental activists) or much feared (by those concerned about the economy and American sovereignty) binding new greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to replace the expiring provisions in the existing Kyoto Protocol, the final Copenhagen agreement is shaping up to be much less than that. Though this modest outcome had been anticipated for months, the reality of it is a disappointment (or relief) to those following this issue. It now looks like all that will come out of this conference is a political agreement that sets out broad goals but leaves all the difficult details to be worked out next year – and even that is running into last minute difficulties.

Though the Obama administration and others will try to spin this as a breakthrough, it is important to remember that for nearly two years, Copenhagen had been hyped as that critical future meeting where everything will be hammered out. Now the can is getting kicked down the road yet again.

It won’t get any easier in 2010. The problems that derailed a major agreement here in Copenhagen are not going away. Most stem from the sky high cost of reducing emissions from fossil fuel use and the impact they would have on energy prices, jobs, and the overall economies of any nation that undertakes them. That the global recession is lingering only makes this expensive pill even harder to swallow. Most significantly, China, India and other fast developing nations still want exemptions from binding emissions reductions. However, since their emissions growth will dominate in the decades ahead (China already out-emits the US and its growth is projected to be 9 times faster than ours), leaving them out would make any agreement futile.

President Obama’s speech was remarkably uneventful and broke no new ground. Simply put, he cannot promise more here in Copenhagen than he can deliver in Washington. Cap and trade legislation is stalled in the Senate and faces a difficult battle ahead. After all, 2010 is an election year, and the American public’s interest in expensive solutions to global warming – which was never high in the first place – is declining. A costly climate bill would be even less popular than legislation as it would raise sovereignty concerns as well. Even the administration’s new pledge to contribute to a $100 billion annual fund to assist developing nations in addressing global warming – such income transfers is the only real reason many poor nations have any interest in these negotiations – is also unlikely to make it through a Congress that will soon face an electorate angry over runaway spending and the poor domestic economy.

One of the elephants in the room here in Copenhagen has been Climategate – the release of emails and other documents evidencing gross misconduct amongst some of the key scientists involved in the main United Nations scientific report that was to be relied upon here. The fact that temperatures have been flat for over a decade only adds to the justifiably growing public skepticism whether global warming really is a crisis.

Negotiations will probably continue into Saturday, but all that appears to be in the cards is some face saving agreement to agree at a later date. So, they’ll try again in 2010. Perhaps the Heritage Foundation’s Copenhagen team should start planning for the next big global warming conference in Mexico City next November!