Climate bill advocates want to see President Obama in Copenhagen

Advocates of climate change legislation say President Barack Obama should attend the international summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month to show the United States is serious about addressing the issue.

“We believe it’s fundamental for the president to go to Copenhagen, to look other leaders in the eye, convey our commitment as a country, and secure theirs,” said Carter Roberts, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

“It would be a shame because a lack of action or commitment by United States, other nations use that to do nothing on their own part,” added retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, an advocate for action on climate change. “In other words, let’s all sit in that house and let it burn down around us as we argue about who should do what.”

He said global warming is not only an environmental threat but a national security one as well.

Warming temperatures could exacerbate existing “fault lines” dividing people by religion, ethnicity, or region, raising the prospects for global instability, McGinn said.

Obama has not yet committed to attending the climate summit, although he is scheduled to be in Oslo, Norway, around the time of the United Nations conference on climate change in Denmark. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said there are no world-leader level meetings scheduled.

Other senior officials have downplayed prospects for what climate advocates most hope for at Copenhagen, a legally binding agreement among countries to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday called Copenhagen a “stepping stone” in that process.

Still, Roberts said he was hopeful global leaders could agree on a legal framework that would lead to the actual emissions cuts and new commitments from developing countries like India to curb carbon.

“There is an enormous opportunity in Copenhagen because the developing world is ready to play ball,” Roberts said.

Poorer nations have resisted firm emission reductions for fear they threaten their development. Without their commitment emissions would likely continue to rise. Roberts also said developed countries should help pay for developing nations to adapt to climate change already happening.

It is also almost certain that the Senate will not have joined the House in passing climate legislation before the Copenhagen summit, which runs Dec. 7-18.

Senate action is seen as important, Roberts said, because other countries are waiting for the United States to act.

But Roberts said it may be enough for senators to release a blueprint for action, specifically noting the efforts of Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to fashion a compromise.

A bill should have a “credible cap, strong international provisions and flexibility to move to solutions within a fairly urgent timetable,” Roberts said.

The area of flexibility may have room for elements that make environmentalists nervous. And Roberts skirted a question about whether his group would back new drilling offshore in exchange for a climate bill.

But he said if the U.S. shows leadership on climate change, other nations will follow. At the same time, firmer commitments at Copenhagen  would stiffen the resolve of the Senate to act, he said.

Meanwhile, one of the main critics of climate legislation in Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released a warning ahead of Copenhagen in a report written by its energy policy arm.

“At the end of the day, all the ‘modalities’ and ‘frameworks’ erected in these negotiations cannot ward off failure if the goal itself is not practicable,” the Institute for 21st Century Energy said in its report.

Global climate policy should focus on support for greater energy efficiency programs and the commercialization of low-carbon technologies, according to the report.