Bearish on the prospects for a legally binding comprehensive climate deal in Copenhagen next month, world leaders have decided to put off a full treaty until at least next year and instead aim for a less sweeping, “politically binding” agreement in Copenhagen.

At a breakfast in Singapore Sunday morning, where they were attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, President Barack Obama, Danish Prime Minister and climate conference chairman Lars Lokke Rasmussen, and other leaders made the decision to delay a full deal, following months of speculation that the developed and developing countries of the world would not be able to settle their differences by December.

“There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full internationally, legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen, which starts in 22 days,” said Michael Froman, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. “I don’t think the negotiations have proceeded in such a way that any of the leaders thought it was likely that we were going to achieve a final agreement in Copenhagen, and yet thought that it was important that Copenhagen be an important step forward, including with operational impact.”
Froman added, “There was, I’d say, a general consensus of support for what Prime Minister Rasmussen laid out, which was – he called it one agreement, two steps — where Copenhagen would be the first step in a process towards an international legally binding agreement.”

Today’s decision could result in a second summit in Mexico City next year, ABC News reports.

While the move will surely disappoint some environmentalists who had seen Copenhagen as a one-shot deal, it will also take some of the pressure off of U.S. lawmakers, who had been scrambling to show demonstrable progress on a national climate bill before the December conference.  It was unlikely, though, that a bill would be passed by next month, and this morning’s announcement could increase the chances that the American delegation will arrive at the next round of international climate talks with cap-and-trade legislation on the books.

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