President Barack Obama is making plans to join the rest of the industrialized world in working out an agreement to cut carbon emissions. The move comes amid calls for action by much of the scientific community, which warns that if manmade warming is not halted, there may be dire consequences. It also comes amid controversy over leaked emails indicating misconduct a major UK research center.
President Obama has proposed an ambitious plan to cut emissions, in line with a climate change bill passed by the US House of Representatives in June. President Obama says the U.S. will offer to cut 17 percent of its emissions by 2020 (with regards to 2005 levels). He also promises to attend the early days of December's UN climate treaty talks in Copenhagen. However, he will miss the critical final days when the final deal will be reached.
UN Climate Chief Yvo de Boer said for President Obama to attend at all, was a major victory, though. He states, "It's critical that President Obama attends the climate change summit in Copenhagen."
Officially, President Obama will be unable to formally commit to the emissions target, as the legislation is currently stuck in the U.S. Senate after sailing through the House. Under Obama's proposed plan, the cuts will continue with a 30 percent reduction by 2025, 42 percent by 2030, and 83 percent by 2050. The White House says that the cuts are "a significant contribution to a problem that the US has neglected for too long."
Over 60 world leaders have committed to attending the talks, including President Obama. The pledges from other countries, though, will be a bit different from those of the U.S. as most are putting their cuts in context with 1990 levels. As the U.S. emissions rose 15 percent from 1990 to 2005, this means that our cuts would fall several percentage points when normalized.
President Obama will pay a largely symbolic visit to the Danish capital on December 9. Instead of attending the later talks, he will instead make a quick trip to Oslo, Norway to collect his Nobel Peace Prize the next day, then return to his normal duties.
Compared to the U.S. targets, other nations are offering bigger promised cuts. The European Union says it will cut 20 percent of its emissions (w.r.t. 1990 levels) by 2020. The conference aims to enact 30 percent cuts, and developing nations are demanding 25 to 40 percent cuts in the same time frame.
A spokesperson for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, Tom Picken cheered Obama's decision to attend, stating, "Obama's pledge to go to Copenhagen is a welcome and significant development - but he must adopt a 'Yes we can' attitude in the UN climate talks if he is to earn his Nobel prize. The US is the world's biggest per capita polluter. It has a moral responsibility to take the lead in securing a strong and fair agreement."
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) also endorsed the move, commenting, "This could be one hell of a global game changer with big reverberations here at home."
The U.S. is the second biggest polluter in terms of carbon emissions, behind only China. China's president Hu Jintao has not committed to attending the summit, but many other major leaders including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva have. The international community hopes to use the conference as a planning phase, as they have given up on enacting a legally-binding treaty by the time the conference is over.