Representatives from 194 countries will meet in Doha, Qatar from November 26 to December 7 for the latest round of international climate talks.
The key question for many is whether or not President Obama will chart new territory for leadership by the United States, a country which has long refused to make the necessary commitments that scientists say are necessary to avert a 2°C rise in global temperatures and the associated climate change such warming is likely to trigger.
As this question about Obama lingers environmental campaigners in the US, global leaders more broadly are being called to the challenge as well. On Friday, the UN expert on global solidarity said that without international unity, the fight against climate change would not be won.
Virginia Dandan, charged by the UN to report on issues of global solidarity, urged world governments to see beyond the cost of climate change in terms of money, and to adopt a strong commitment to international cooperation as a key element towards a successful round of talks in Doha.
“The costs of climate change to humanity cannot be covered only by accomplishing the commitments in finance for adaptation and mitigation,” Dandan warned. “The international community must be prepared to give much more than money.”
Following his recent re-election, Obama acknowledged that more needed to be done to confront climate change, but said political realities would prevent bold action if it appeared that "economic growth" or "American jobs" would be unduly impacted by such efforts.
That sentiment was challenged by Dandan, however, who said that what's needed is "world leaders with the courage to rise above narrow political and economic self-interest" in order to meet the global challenges ahead. She cited the need to fulfill promises made at this year's Earth Summit in Rio that called for the eradication of poverty and mitigation against the impact of climate change on the world's most "marginalized and vulnerable.”
“Most vulnerable nations cannot pay for what other nations have done or are doing today,” Ms. Dandan said, as she asked developed countries not to back down from their longstanding but unfulfilled commitments. She also asked those rising economic powers who have become new polluters to do their part.
“In this project, we are all together,” she said.
As the world's sole super power, however, the US has received special criticism and unique pressure. "We need the US to engage even more," European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told the Associated Press. "Because that can change the dynamic of the talks."
For Obama's part, it simply remains to be seen what kind of leader he will prove to be now that his re-election campaign is behind him.
“The perception of many negotiators and countries is that the U.S. is not really interested in increasing action on climate change in general,” Bill Hare, senior scientist at Climate Analytics, a non-profit organization based in Berlin, told the Washington Post.
With so much on the line, say advocates, real US engagement and leadership is essential.
"President Obama's re-election provides him with an opportunity to seal his legacy as a truly transformative leader, but he needs to address climate change," Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, said in an interview with The Guardian. "I think history will judge any president from now onwards not to have succeeded if he doesn't really grapple with this issue seriously."
Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute in Washington, told the Associated Press that in the aftermath of both Hurricane Sandy and a victorious election partly based on voters leanings on climate issues, things need to change for the president. "I think there will be expectations from countries to hear a new voice from the United States," she said.