November 25, 2009
President Obama will attend the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month, according to a senior administration official, a sign of the president’s increasing confidence that the talks will yield a meaningful agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The White House will also announce today that the United States will commit, in the talks, to reduce its emissions of the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for global warming “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, the official said. That’s the target set out in the climate bill the House passed in June.
The president will address negotiators on Dec. 9, just after the opening of the two-week summit, on his way to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize in nearby Sweden. His speech will come ahead of planned visits by prominent heads of state from Europe and around the world, and before the talks are expected to reach their most frenzied pitch.
White House officials said the decision to attend came after productive climate discussions between Obama and the heads of China and India, two developing nations whose participation is seen as critical to any successful effort to avert catastrophic climate change.
Those discussions left the president optimistic that his presence in Copenhagen could seal a meaningful – though not legally binding – climate deal, meeting the standard that Obama previously set for his attendance at the summit, the officials said.
Environmentalists have pushed for Obama’s attendance to add heft to the Copenhagen meeting, which was originally intended to produce a new climate deal to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Several nations key to the talks, including the United States and China, have conceded in recent weeks that negotiations have proceeded too slowly to produce a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen. Instead, those nations are now aiming for a sort of executive summary of a future treaty to be completed next year; that summary would nevertheless include critical issues such as emissions reduction pledges for individual nations.
Obama has stressed the importance of the talks. In public speeches and private meetings with world leaders, he has repeatedly pledged U.S. action to curb global warming, in contrast to eight years of reluctance under the Bush Administration.
But he wavered on whether to attend in person, even as leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown committed to go.
Obama’s attendance carries political risks at home, where his energy and climate bill has bogged down in the Senate behind health care, and where critics figure to pounce if he fails to lead the world to a climate agreement. Republicans in particular are mindful of Obama’s trip to Copenhagen earlier this year, when he lobbied unsuccessfully for Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
His absence at the talks could have brought serious repercussions abroad, where many nations are already blaming the dim prospects for a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen on the United States’ failure to adopt emissions limits.
Environmentalists were cheered by the news — at least in part.
“Obviously, we are glad that President Obama will be in Copenhagen in the early part of the climate summit,” said Keya Chatterjee, the climate director for World Wildlife Fund. “It’s important that his words during this important moment convey that the United States intends to make climate change a legislative priority, not simply a rhetorical one.
“If it becomes necessary to secure the right commitments,” she added, “the President must also be willing to return to Copenhagen with the rest of the world’s leaders during the final stages of the negotiations.”
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