Obama grasps for climate accord

Obama grasps for climate accord
© The Hill

President Obama is headed to a United Nations climate change summit on Tuesday seeking to lay the groundwork for a global accord on greenhouse gas emissions that could burnish his legacy.

Obama will call on global leaders to "step up to the plate and raise their level of ambition" when considering actions to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the White House.

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While the speech on Tuesday before 125 heads of state will allow the president to tout the actions he has taken to reign in pollution, it will also give him an opportunity to pressure other nations into following suit.

"We are taking this summit seriously," said senior White House adviser John Podesta.

Flanked by Podesta, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyTrump’s budget prioritizes polluters over people Trump pulls US out of Paris deal: What it would mean Regulations, farmers and the law MORE, and the State Department's climate envoy Todd Stern, Obama will use the summit to hold bilateral meetings with key players, critical to pushing forward discussions for next year's meeting in Paris.

A number of world leaders will be absent from the event, however, notably Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The administration says it isn't concerned that the leaders of the No. 1 and No. 3 emitters of greenhouse gases in the world — China and India — will be absent from the summit because both countries will represented by high-ranking officials.

Everything points to Paris 2015 for the White House, where countries will work to sign a global climate change treaty that would set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

U.N. officials are calling the Sept. 23 summit "a major turning point" because it will start the clock on the final 15-month stretch before the Paris negotiations.

Obama will seek to jumpstart the talks by committing to “redoubling our effort to help vulnerable populations around the world prepare for climate change impacts," Podesta told reporters.

The president will also announce a suite of planned public goods that he says will help drive science and technology advancements in the U.S. to build up climate resilience.

"We are in stronger standing than we have ever been on this issue," Stern told reporters last week.

In the days leading up to the summit, the administration rolled out more executive actions related to climate change while mounting a public defense of the president's signature climate rule on carbon pollution from power plants.

The proposed standards would mandate that the nation's fleet of existing power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. And it won’t be the only climate action he’ll tout.

Last week, the administration unveiled voluntary commitments from refrigerant companies and food retailers to phase out the use of a popular coolant, and hydrofluorocarbons, which are 10,000 times more potent than carbon.

Obama also took executive actions to boost renewable energy and efficiency projects in rural areas, and launched a job program that will train 50,000 people, including veterans, as solar panel installers.

Those actions will be the core of what Obama brings to the table Tuesday as he seeks to convince other leaders that more commitments are needed to stave off an increase in global temperatures.

Republicans consider the administration's diplomatic efforts pointless, and say they will have devastating consequences for the economy. They argue that Obama is putting the nation out on a limb by attacking climate change without getting commitments first from other world powers.

Democrats are fully behind the push. Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseJudiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting GOP hits the gas on ObamaCare repeal Dems limited in their ability to slow ObamaCare vote MORE (D-R.I.) said Obama's decision to attend the summit "sends a good message," but what he's bringing to the table sends a better one.

"I think a better message was sent by the power plants rule, and seriousness that was showed by doing something about the problem not just talking about it," Whitehouse said.

Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for staunch environmental advocate Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyDem senator: Trump 'doesn't respect' the presidency Overnight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Dems urge Sessions to reject AT&T-Time Warner merger MORE (D-Mass.), said the senator hopes that the mix of citizens, countries and companies coming together for climate action "will inspire the Congress and international negotiators to be bold in Washington and in the climate negotiations in Paris next year."

Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said while the summit is critical, it isn't the end point. He said his hope is that it will help foster a more open dialogue between leaders than past attempts to forge global pacts, such as the 2009 talks in Copenhagen.

Schmidt thinks the 2015 talks will bear fruit, but still fall a tad short.

"I suspect we won't get exactly what we need to go home and say we are convinced we are on the right path," Schmidt said.

"Clearly it is going to be deeper, and stronger than what has been done to date, but will it be enough to put us on autopilot? I suspect not," he said.