By Karin Jensen
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Whether the long road from last year's Bali climate summit to the 2009 Copenhagen gathering ends with a binding deal to replace Kyoto depends crucially on the United States, according to the Danish climate minister.
"I think that the United States, and getting the United States to move, is the key to also get China and India moving," Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard told Reuters in an interview this week.
The UN climate summit in Bali late last year agreed on a two-year negotiating process aimed at securing a post-2012 deal at the Copenhagen meeting to replace the Kyoto accord.
As the world's largest emitters of CO2, blamed by scientists for global warming, the United States, China and India will be key figures in the negotiations.
Although Hedegaard is pleased that Bali resulted in a roadmap for negotiations, she acknowledges that following that path to Copenhagen 2009 will be difficult.
The workload over the next two years will be enormous and there is no guarantee it will result in an agreement.
"It is going to be an extremely hard nut to crack and there is no guarantee that we will succeed in cracking it. I have no doubt that we will succeed at some stage, but no one says it will happen in 2009," said Hedegaard.
It is also important that leaders come up with the right deal, not just an agreement for the sake of it.
CHANGES IN ATTITUDE UNDER WAY
The minister said it is not just the upcoming U.S. presidential election which is important, but what happens in the U.S. Congress in the aftermath as well as public sentiment.
"That is why it is so important to use one's strength on the Senate, on the House of Representatives, on the cities, the states. Try to use all possible parts of the American society," said Hedegaard.
Over the past few years, about 20 US senators have visited Greenland, a self-govering province in the Kingdom of Denmark, to see for themselves the consequences of global warming.
Hedegaard has also taken part in hearings in the U.S. Congress and made contacts with large American NGOs. She plans to visit the United States again soon, to attend an energy conference and to talk to a number of large companies.
"Wherever it is possible we must try to influence the sentiment in the United States," she said.
She said sentiment about the climate is shifting, both in the United States and globally.
That the heated debate in Bali, where the United States initially opposed a deal, resulted in an eleventh-hour agreement proves this, the minister said.
"I interpret this to mean that the political price of being the country which blocks progress has grown and is now so high that not even the United States wants to pay it," she said.
The next two years will be hectic with four extraordinary climate meetings. The first of these will take place in Ghana this spring, financed by Denmark.
A number of other meetings will also be held as well as a smaller climate summit in Poland in December.
To cope with the workload, the Danish government decided in November to set up a separate ministry to oversee preparations for the 2009 summit and to spearhead "climate diplomacy."
With diplomacy key to bridging gaps between nations, Denmark will within a few weeks name five climate ambassadors and is currently considering where to place them.
"They will create strong contacts to all parts of society of the key countries in question. It could be political decision makers, but it could also be the NGO-milieu. And it could be corporations," said Hedegaard.
(By Karin Jensen; editing by James Jukwey)