Washington (AFP) Nov 25, 2009
President Barack Obama will head to next month's Copenhagen climate summit to offer the first US plan to cut carbon emissions, officials said Wednesday, reviving hopes the closely watched meeting will succeed.
The Obama administration offered to curb US emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 -- less than calls by the European Union, Japan and UN scientists but the first numbers on the table by the world's largest economy.
"The president going to Copenhagen will give positive momentum to the negotiations and we think will enhance the prospects for success," Carol Browner, Obama's top aide on climate policy, told reporters.
Obama will address the meeting in Copenhagen on December 9, the day before he heads to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mike Froman, the deputy national security adviser, said Obama decided to go after sensing progress in talks with China, India and other emerging economies, which rich nations are pressing to do more on global warming.
A carefully worded White House statement said Obama was putting on the table the US offer "in the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that includes robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies."
The White House said Obama would lay out a longer term plan for a 30 percent reduction of US emissions from 2005 levels by 2025, a 42 percent reduction by 2030 and an 83 percent cut by 2050.
Browner said the near-term offer was "in the range" of 17 percent depending on legislation in the deeply divided US Senate, which has delayed action on climate change until next year.
Foreign leaders and environmentalists hailed Obama's presence, hoping it would breathe new life into the December 7-18 conference meant to draft the successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, whose obligations expire in 2012.
UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said that if the US offer was clear-cut, it can "help pave the way for a successful outcome at Copenhagen."
But he also said that developed nations needed to come forward on another key part of negotiations -- pledging financing to help poorer nations cope with climate change.
"If the president comes in the first week to announce that, it would be a major boost to the conference," said de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in charge of the conference.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said he was "pleased" Obama would come to his country and hoped the visit would "contribute to an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen."
France's environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who was on his way to China, hailed Obama's offer and said it would help persuade Beijing.
"It's an extremely encouraging first response," Borloo told AFP.
Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of charity Oxfam America, said Obama had lived up to election pledges by showing he is "ready to roll up his sleeves to make a climate change deal happen."
"Today's announcement flies in the face of predictions of failure in Copenhagen well before the conference even begins," he said.
Obama campaigned on promises to fight global warming, a sharp reversal from his predecessor George W. Bush, who disputed evidence on climate change until late in his presidency and called the Kyoto Protocol unfair to rich countries.
But the US Congress has yet to complete legislation to mandate cuts in emissions, amid staunch opposition from many members of Bush's Republican Party.
Obama's offer reflects a bill narrowly passed by the House of Representatives in June that envisages cuts of 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050.
A slightly more ambitious bill before the Senate talks of a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.
Senator John Kerry, who has spearheaded the bill, said Obama's announcement could sway not only other nations but also US lawmakers.
"This could be one hell of a global game changer with big reverberations here at home," Kerry said.
"The Obama administration is now undeniably mustering bona fide leadership on climate change, not merely departing from Bush administration intransigence and ideology," said Kerry, who unsuccessfully challenged Bush for the White House in 2004.
Compared with the 1990 benchmark used by almost every other country, the US target only amounts to something like a four percent reduction in emissions of the gases blamed for global warming.
The European Union has vowed to reduce its emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels before 2020, raising the target to 30 percent in the event of an international agreement. Japan has offered 25 percent, but attached conditions.
earlier related report
The 53-nation gathering is being portrayed as an essential stepping stone to Copenhagen, where world leaders will try to draw up a post-2012 accord to slash emissions from fossil fuels that cause greenhouse gases.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said the twin challenges of the pressing need for action on climate change and the battle against the global recession made the three-day meeting in Port of Spain a "crisis summit".
"We have all had a bad few years of crisis upon crisis. The fuel and food crises of last year have been compounded by a financial crisis in 2009, in which less no less than half of our members are suffering negative growth," he told Commonwealth civic leaders in Trinidad ahead of the talks.
Founded 60 years ago, the Commonwealth now stretches around the globe, encompassing two billion people and accounting for a fifth of world trade.
The club of mainly former British colonies could grow further as the meeting will consider a membership application from Rwanda, a move backed by Commonwealth heavyweights though opposed by human rights campaigners.
But with the clock ticking to the start of the talks on December 7, the issue of climate has risen to the top of the agenda.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon as well as Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen will go to Trinidad for discussions on climate warming with Commonwealth leaders on Friday.
In an unusual move, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will also attend, fresh from taking part in a meeting of eight Amazon countries in the Brazilian city of Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon jungle.
Sharma said he wanted the Trinidad meeting to produce a strong political statement to take to Copenhagen but stressed the need to ensure that the voice of the Commonwealth's smaller nations is heard.
"The ones most starkly affected in many instances by global warming are the many small and vulnerable states that have negligible carbon footprints," he told reporters in a pre-meeting briefing in London.
Politicians from one tiny Commonwealth member, the Maldives, donned flippers and snorkels for an underwater cabinet meeting in October to warn against rising sea levels that threaten to submerge the low-lying archipelago.
Its president, Mohamed Nasheed, has warned that if every developed country enters the Copenhagen negotiations seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible, it would be a "recipe for collective suicide."
Rwanda's bid to join the Commonwealth, 15 years after hundreds of thousands of people were killed in a genocide, is supported by Britain and Canada, two of the organisation's main financial contributors.
They argue that if the former German colony, which later came under a Belgian mandate from the League of Nations, joined the club it would be forced to raise its standards under increased international scrutiny.
But Human Rights Watch claims President Paul Kagame's administration suppresses democracy, freedom of speech, the press and human rights.
The group says the Commonwealth's claim to uphold those values would be undermined if it opened its doors to Rwanda.
The Commonwealth must also consider how to persuade Fiji to return to democracy.
The Pacific country had its membership suspended in September after its military ruler refused to meet Commonwealth demands to call elections by October next year, following a coup in December 2006.
Earlier this month, Commonwealth members Australia and New Zealand expelled Fiji's top envoys in a tit-for-tat retaliation for a similar move by the country's military regime, abruptly raising regional tensions.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, the Head of the Commonwealth, will officially open the talks on Friday.
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US President Barack Obama sought Tuesday to boost hopes of a landmark deal at the Copenhagen climate summit, as a new report showed the crisis facing the planet is deeper than previously thought. Obama said the world was "one step closer to a successful outcome in Copenhagen," as he hosted key developing nation India at the White House a week after returning from top global polluter China. ... read more
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