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Obama: into the climate minefield

Climate an issue for 'Hollywood elite': US senator
Copenhagen (AFP) Dec 17, 2009 - The Senate's top critic of legislation on climate change on Thursday told the Copenhagen summit that the United States will not take action, calling the issue a concern for the "Hollywood elite." Senator James Inhofe flew to the Danish capital for a visit of just two hours in between votes in Washington, hoping to undercut President Barack Obama's pledges to take a leadership role on climate. "We're not going to be passing a climate change bill," Inhofe said in a sometimes combative interaction with reporters.

"The ones who really grab ahold of this in the United States are the Hollywood elites," said the Oklahoma senator, the top member of the minority Republican party on a key committee addressing global warming. Senator John Kerry, a top ally of Obama, visited the 194-nation summit Wednesday and voiced confidence the United States would approve its first national plan to reduce carbon emissions blamed for climate change. Inhofe said that Kerry "misled" the summit and feared Obama would do likewise when he comes to its finale on Friday. The summit has been bogged down in disputes between wealthy and developing nations, which are seeking billions of dollars in aid to help them cope with the ravages of climate change.

"Why would we in the United States give something to China to help them to meet certain goals when they own 800 billion dollars of our debt? It just doesn't make sense," Inhofe said. Inhofe was a close partner of former president George W. Bush, a vociferous critic of the current Kyoto Protocol which the Republicans argue is unfair by making no demands of emerging economies whose emissions are rising. Obama plans to tell the summit that the United States will cut carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 off 2005 levels, in line with legislation that squeaked through the House of Representatives in June but is pending in the Senate. However, Obama's pledges are well below those made by the European Union and Japan and the recommendations of UN scientists.
by Staff Writers
Copenhagen (AFP) Dec 18, 2009
US President Barack Obama was flying blind Friday into the nervy, uncertain end-game of the UN climate summit, pursuing a landmark deal, but risking damaging political fallout if things go wrong.

Obama left Washington late Thursday with the two-week Copenhagen conference on a knife-edge, facing a stiff test of his diplomatic mettle, amid warnings of a looming "catastrophe" in Denmark.

"The president will be coming to the most complicated, complex, international meeting that he has seen as president," said a senior US official on condition of anonymity.

"He will be very well positioned to have an impact here," the official said, but admitted: "I do not know what the outcome will be at the end."

Constrained by the delicate domestic politics of climate change back home, Obama faces high expectations here.

The United States is pushing for an "operational agreement" to pave the way for a binding treaty on cutting carbon emissions next year -- which would have more teeth than a flurry of mere pledges of future action by nations.

Some leaders appear to harbour hopes the American president will unpick a deadlock between developed and developing states.

"As far as I know he's coming here to show leadership -- what everybody expects from the United States of America and from President Obama himself," said European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.

But exactly what Obama can offer is uncertain.

Washington has already said it will not budge on its offer of curbing US carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 -- less than EU offers but as much as the US political climate will bear.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday Washington would pay into a fund worth 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change, but left the exact figure unspoken.

Officials warned Obama will likely steer clear of specifics when he addresses world leaders here on Friday.

Generally, US presidents prefer to wager their prestige only when a major foreign policy win is already locked in, to avoid the sting of coming home empty-handed.

Yet Obama headed to Copenhagen for the second time within three months, hazarding big chunks of personal political clout with a favorable outcome for his mission up in the air.

Denmark stirs rotten memories inside the White House.

In October, Obama flew into political embarrassment, when the International Olympic Committee snubbed his bid to secure the 2016 summer Games for Chicago.

It was a political goldmine for domestic foes who think the world sees Obama as a soft touch.

The White House Thursday appeared to be rolling out the first steps of a damage control operation, as the mood turned dark in Denmark.

"Coming back with an empty agreement would be far worse than coming back empty handed," said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Clinton meanwhile accused developing nations, apparently with an eye on China, of backsliding on transparency requirements designed to prove they live up to promised emission cuts.

"If there is not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that's kind of a deal breaker for us," Clinton said. It was not clear if she was playing the "bad cop," or preparing a face-saving exit for her boss.

The climate conference is the latest international crisis in the president's frenetic first year in power -- including the worsening Afghan war, Iran's nuclear gauntlet and the economic meltdown.

In Copenhagen, a familiar scenario is unfolding, with Obama balancing his multilateral global engagement with a vulnerable political front back home as isolationist sentiment rises.

US sceptics warn a domestic cap-and-trade plan to cut emissions logjammed in the Senate will strangle the nascent economic recovery.

At the same time, Obama's bargaining position in Copenhagen and the hopes of the summit themselves are hampered by Senate foot-dragging, and the lack of a new US global warming law limits Obama's capacity to compromise in Copenhagen.

But should he go home with no deal, prospects for Congressional action on the cap and trade bill will absorb a huge blow.

Opponents of Obama's plans to rein in US emissions will ask why should Washington accept punishing hits to its own economy if its major developing rivals like China and India will not also pay a price?

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Climate: draft political accord readied for world leaders
Copenhagen (AFP) Dec 18, 2009
Leaders and ministers from about 30 countries hammered out an outline climate accord early Friday morning, hours before some 130 world leaders were to gather in a summit, diplomats said. The three-hour session ended about 2:30 a.m., leaving top advisors to work out the final language of the draft agreement on how to tame global warming and help poor countries cope with its impacts. ... read more

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