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Copenhagen: ‘It’s anybody’s guess.’

I got off the train this morning, walked past a drum corps and the big-screen television broadcasting interviews with activist experts. I picked up my free vegan sandwich from the ever-pleasant anti-meat protesters and passed through the first security checkpoint. On my way in, I could hear another crowd of protesters amplified by bullhorns somewhere off in the distance.

The Bella Center was eerily empty when I entered. Leaders and their security details are on site, but civil-society groups have largely been locked out. I met Jennifer Morgan, who runs the climate shop for the World Resources Institute, and learned that negotiators reported little progress when they finally broke at 4 a.m. At this stage of the talks, I asked, is there any way that the formal negotiating text can be cleaned up? “It’s hard to see,” she said.

What this means is unclear. In the midst of all the gloom yesterday afternoon, I did a quick round of interviews and discovered a brand of persistent optimism holding that the real talks are now among leaders and that leaders really want a breakthrough. For the first time in history, an environmental summit has become a summit of people who have the power to make big decisions. The top dogs are trying to broker a compromise on the very biggest issues – emissions commitments, long-term funding for developing countries and the like. If they are able to unlock these issues, the ball game would clearly change. It still takes time to clean up text, and time is running short indeed, but who knows – an entirely new, stripped-down text could be put on the table.

“It’s anybody’s guess,” Saleem Huq told me. Huq is an adaptation expert and former IPCC lead author currently at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, although he will soon be heading to Bangladesh to head a new institute focused on adaptation. “My take on it is that it’s a success no matter what,” he added, gesturing toward a room full of journalists from all over the world. “It’s a story back home in every country. It’s a much higher level of engagement.”

For now it’s a waiting game. Activity has picked up, and now crowds of people and cameras surround televisions providing a view into the main plenary hall. I’m going to pop over to a couple of press conferences just to see if the tone has changed. The Africa Group is first, followed by Japan, Brazil (featuring none other than President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva himself), India and Iran.

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