WASHINGTON — The White House announced Wednesday that President Obama will attend U.N.-sponsored climate talks next month in Copenhagen and commit the United States to specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The administration’s decision to identify a series of goals, including cutting emissions over the next decade “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels, is a calculated risk given the fact that Congress has never set mandatory limits on greenhouse gases.
That amounts to a 5.5 percent cut below the 1990 levels that most countries use as a reference point, much less than what most other nations have called for: It is also less than what President Clinton endorsed in the Kyoto talks in 1997 and well below the 25 to 40 percent cut that the European Union has asked of industrialized countries.
However, the target will be contingent on passage of domestic legislation, and that figure reflects the current U.S. political reality. The House has already passed such a target, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is working to fashion a bipartisan bill said that the short-term target was “a strong and good place to be.”
Obama has come under intense pressure, from both world leaders and his domestic supporters, to take the lead in forging a global pact to slow climate change.
He will visit the Danish capital Dec. 9, one day before he goes to nearby Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, which he’s receiving in part for his efforts to relaunch talks that have been stalled in recent years. But he arrives well before more than 75 heads of state gather in Copenhagen for the high-level portion of the talks, which at best will produce a political deal to be ratified as a legally binding treaty in 2010.
Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman said the goals were being offered in the context of countries like India and China following suit. “At this point, it’s critical that all countries, all major economies come forward with their mitigation actions … to maximize the chance of progress in Copenhagen,” he said Wednesday.
But that critical question — how much China and India, who are not bound by the same obligations as industrialized countries under the U.N. process, will cut their emissions as part of a global agreement — remains unanswered. The two nation’s top leaders, both of whom met personally with Obama over the past week and a-half, are expected to unveil their own climate plans within a matter of days.
Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, said that Obama is “walking a knife’s edge” to encourage China and India to act without alienating Congress. “It’s a calculated risk, but it’s the right play.”