The President just gave a brief speech here in Copenhagen to the assembled parties, laying out what he believes are the crucial elements to a successful climate change accord. Specifically, there are three elements—greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation commitments, transparency, and financing (but more on those in a moment).

Consistent with the Administration’s prior statements about global warming, the President spoke in absolute terms about the urgency of the matter. Statements along the lines of “We are running out of time,” “The time to talk is over,” and “No time to waste” peppered the President’s speech. This despite the fact that global temperatures have leveled off or even cooled over the past ten years and may continue to do so for years to come.

The President touted U.S. actions on climate change, including ending subsidies for fossil fuels, promoting energy efficiency in homes and businesses, and “cap and trade” legislation. He repeated his pledge (not yet agreed to by Congress, especially the Senate, we should note) that the U.S. will lower its GHG emissions “in the range of 17 percent” by 2020 and by “over 80 percent” by 2050.

But the President cast some doubt on whether the nations of the world were collectively prepared to reach a final deal.

It Boils Down to Sovereignty

As to the three key elements of an international climate accord—GHG mitigation, transparency, and financing—the negotiators here in Copenhagen appear to be fairly close to terms on two out of the three. It is the element of transparency (read: sovereignty) that appears to be a sticking point.

You see, the world agrees that each nation is responsible for lowering or at least mitigating their GHG emissions and that the “rich” nations of the world should contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to assist the “poor” nations to do so.

But what has not been agreed upon creates a major void: How will those hundreds of billions be spent? Will the developing nations be transparent in their mitigation and adaptation efforts? How can the actions and efforts of developing nations—many of which are poorly governed, corrupt, or outright kleptocracies—be verified by the donor nations?

The developing world—particularly China and India—jealously guard their national sovereignty and bristle at the notion that donor nations would want to actually verify that their billions of dollars are being spent on actual GHG mitigation and adaptation projects.

The resolution of the sovereignty issue will determine the outcome of comprehensive international climate change negotiations.