NEW YORK: The relief in the voice of the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was palpable at the end of his climate change summit. China and India, the countries used in the developed world as the default shield against decisive climate change action, had turned up with something to say.
And Japan, the rich, industrialised nation that has fallen out of fashion in global diplomacy, had produced a real shock by pledging to cut carbon emissions by a quarter within 11 years.
As much as a UN secretary-general can take a real risk, Mr Ban had done so by convening the summit. The UN's power to advance solutions to any seemingly intractable problems, let alone the convoluted and conflicted issue of climate change, is questionable at the best of times. By mid-year, Mr Ban had realised the chance of any sort of agreement at Copenhagen in December was heading towards nil.
The one-day summit was his attempt to shock the process back into life. It looks as if it worked, but the heartbeat is faint. If this is as good as it gets, then Copenhagen is still likely to be a bust. Yet the summit generated some genuine progress. Given that it lasted all of nine hours and was tacked on to a scheduled meeting of the UN General Assembly, many participants reported that the set-piece speeches by most of the the big emitters and the closed-door working groups reflected a real change in sentiment.
The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, shared Mr Ban's view that a ''new political momentum'' had emerged but also conceded world leaders were still a long way off reaching an agreement in the 80-odd days until the Copenhagen meeting. Mr Rasmussen and Mr Ban felt encouraged because the result was something beyond the predictable happy-clappy diplomatic-speak that plagues the UN precinct by New York's East River.
India, having dragged its feet on the question, finally acknowledged it needed to become part of the solution. Japan's Government, under its new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, offered a template for the sort of action Mr Ban had been hoping to see.
And the contribution of China's President, Hu Jintao, was decisive, even if some of his promises were nebulous. He pledged that China would begin a reforestation plan to cover the equivalent of the land mass of Norway, to generate 15 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources within 10 years, and to reduce carbon emissions by a significant but unspecified amount. Given that China now emits 20 per cent of the world's carbon - the same proportion as the United States - this raises the prospect of a real advance.
As for the US, President Barack Obama remained in neutral. He is a solid advocate of climate change action and his speech kicked off the summit. His call to arms highlighted the vital need for a Copenhagen agreement but he did not move America's position forward. For now, he lacks the domestic political momentum.
Climate change is a big part of his first-term agenda but it is in the queue behind a bigger, uglier customer - health care - and must wait until the health issue is sorted out. Mr Obama seemed resigned privately to this. On his way to the assembly room, Mr Ban excitedly greeted him: ''I'm sure you'll make a great speech.'' With a disarming smile, the President replied: ''I don't know if it'll be great, but I'll certainly make one.'' The UN's webcam service picked up the exchange.
Mr Obama's problems are merely the world's climate policy problems writ small. The UN summit was designed not to get an agreement but to generate a strategy, and it did not quite manage even that. Instead it created a vibe, perhaps a renewed enthusiasm to get an agreement to succeed Kyoto. However, climate change is ultimately a domestic question and many countries, especially the US, seem to lack political systems to settle such issues. Perhaps awkwardly for the world's democracies, the big emitter that could do the most to reduce global warming in the medium term is the authoritarian giant, China.