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November 30, 2009
Obama to Attend Climate Change Talks in Copenhagen
    by Robert Kropp

Hopes for substance in Copenhagen increase as the President intends to declare a US commitment to emissions reduction targets, and China announces targets as well.


In a stateme nt released on November 25, the White House announced that President Obama will be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), scheduled to begin in Copenhagen next week.

Obama, whose administration's commitment to climate change strategies has been evident through such initiatives as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as his call for Congress "to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America," will attend the COP15 conference on December 9. According to the White House statement, "the President is prepared to put on the table a US emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final US energy and climate legislation."

The emissions reduction targets to which the White House statement referred are those that passed the US House of Representatives in June. Slightly higher targets are included in the version of the bill under deliberation in the Senate. However, despite having passed the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee in an 11-1 vote that was boycotted by all seven Republican members of the Committee, the bill is languishing and is not expected to be considered by the full Senate until next year.

Republican efforts to derail the Senate climate change bill have been led by James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who in a 2005 speech before the Senate called climate change "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Senate Republicans, as well as many Democrats from Midwestern states, claim that without agreements from such large developing nations as China and India, the legislation would have not environmental effect and only place the US at a competitive disadvantage.

However, last week's announcement by China of emissions reduction targets of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020 seems to undermine a significant objection to climate change legislation in the US. In addition, Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao announced his intention to attend the Copenhagen talks as well.

As of this writing, neither Sen. Inhofe nor other prominent opponents of US climate legislation has addressed the turn of events signaled by China's commitment to emissions reduction targets.

In a statement, Josť Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, reacted to President Obama's decision to attend the COP15 conference in its early days with a statement in which he said, "I welcome that President Obama has committed to come to Copenhagen. I have made clear that we need as many world leaders as possible. I hope that others will follow suit."

However, a degree of disappointment has been noted in the reactions of Barroso and others in Europe to the timing of Obama's arrival, since most heads of state will be meeting in Copenhagen toward the end of the two weeks of talks. Obama has indicated that it is highly unlikely he will return to Copenhagen after traveling to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10.

Andreas Carlgren, the European Union's Minister for the Environment, said about the timing of Obama's visit, "The fact that President Obama will be coming to Copenhagen raises expectations, but I have been expecting him to participate at the meeting of heads of state and government at the end of COP15."

Barroso and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt responded to the US and Chinese announcements on climate change with a joint statement, saying, "We welcome the news that the US and China have both indicated what they are prepared to do, in concrete numbers, on mitigation."

Referring to the US contribution, the statement said, "Although the emissions reduction target for 2020 will be disappointing to some, we note that their proposal entails strong reductions by 2025 and 2030."

The statement continued, "We recognize the major efforts made by the Obama Administration to transform the US position."

In a press release issued by We Can Lead, a number of prominent business leaders spoke favorably of the potential impact of Obama's appearance in Copenhagen.

For instance, Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, said "I applaud President Obama's travel to Copenhagen. His presence will help ensure a successful outcome at the global climate talks, driving new investment, strengthening our global economic recovery, and moving us forward in building a productive, competitive economy here at home. The rules that Congress is developing will complement Copenhagen's global road map, supporting our business objectives to provide clean, efficient, affordable and reliable energy to our customers."

And Wayne Leonard, Chairman and CEO of Entergy, said, "Nothing is more important at the present time than President Obama's attendance and active participation at Copenhagen."

 

 
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