Emissions target set ahead of Copenhagen climate summit

President Barack Obama unveiled a provisional target number for lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that the U.S. will present at next month's international climate change summit in Copenhagen.

The White House said Obama would offer a provisional U.S. emissions cut of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, mirroring a sweeping House climate bill that was approved over the summer. Obama will put this figure on the table "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.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Copenhagen talks are aimed at crafting a political accord, with efforts to reach a final, legally binding emissions treaty to follow next year. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, and the president's attendance will add some much needed weight to the negotiations.

"The President’s decision to go is a sign of his continuing commitment and leadership to find a global solution to the global threat of climate change, and to lay the foundation for a new, sustainable and prosperous clean energy future," the White House said. 

At least 65 heads of state plan to be at the talks, which run from December 7-18. Obama will attend December 9,  which is a day before he is scheduled to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.


The trip will take Obama away from Washington as the Senate pushes to finish a debate on healthcare reform before the Christmas break.

The decision to attend follows Obama’s bilateral meetings this month with the heads of China and India. The White House said these sessions yielded agreements about the principles for a climate accord, although they did not include specific commitments on emissions targets.

“We reaffirmed that an agreement in Copenhagen should be comprehensive and cover all the issues under negotiation,” Obama said Tuesday in a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House.

“We resolved to take significant national mitigation actions that will strengthen the world's ability to combat climate change. We agreed to stand by these commitments with full transparency through appropriate processes as to their implementation,” Obama said.

Obama’s meeting this month in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao ended with similar pledges.

White House officials say the multilateral negotiations next month can yield a major agreement on steps to combat climate change, even though world leaders have downgraded the goal to a political accord rather than a binding treaty.

"With less than two weeks to go until the beginning of the Copenhagen conference, it is essential that the countries of the world, led by the major economies, do what it takes to produce a strong, operational agreement that will both launch us on a concerted effort to combat climate change and serve as a stepping stone to a legally binding treaty," the White House said today.

David Hamilton of the Sierra Club applauded Obama’s decision to attend the talks.

“It is great news and it gives gravity and momentum to the beginning of the talks,” said Hamilton, the group’s director of global warming and energy programs. “I think it also raises expectations that this has the potential to be more than just talking about what Copenhagen was meant to be.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a chief architect of Senate climate plans, also cheered the decision to attend and the provisional emissions target Obama plans to offer.

“This could be one hell of a global game changer with big reverberations here at home. For the first time, an American Administration has proposed an emissions reduction target and when President Obama lands in Copenhagen it will emphasize that the United States is in it to win it. This announcement matches words with action," he said in a prepared statement.

While Obama's provisional target reflects legislation the House narrowly approved, The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a steeper 2020 target of 20 percent earlier this month. But several powerful lawmakers – including Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) – want that scaled back.



UPDATED: This story was last updated at 12:31 PM
Kerry called the provisional target a "shot in the arm" for efforts to steer a climate bill through the Senate.