Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Copenhagen climate summit: Barack Obama given power to cut greenhouse gases

President Barack Obama has taken powers to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars, factories and power plants across the United States.

By Geoffrey LeanPublished: 9:02PM GMT 07 Dec 2009

The news dramatically improves the prospects of reaching a new agreement to combat global warming at the climate summit which opened in Copenhagen on Monday.
His administration formally declared that the gases "endanger the public health and welfare of the America people" empowering its Environment Protection Agency to regulate them across the country under the country's Clean Air Act, without having to get a hotly-contested climate bill through the US Congress.

Lisa Jackson, the agency's administrator, said the move "relied on decades of sound, peer-reviewed, extensively evaluated scientific data" which both "authorised and obligated" it to take reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
She called it "a reasonable and common-sense measure" that would "drive technology innovation for a better economy and protect the environment for a better future without placing an undue burden" on business.
She added: "It also means that we arrive at the climate talks in Copenhagen with a clear demonstration of our commitment to facing this global challenge. We hope that today's announcement serves as another incentive for far-reaching accords"
But Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said that regulations under the Act would pose "a threat to every American family and business".
Late last month President Obama announced that the US was ready to cut emissions by 17 per cent on 2005 levels, boosting the prospects for agreement in Copenhagen. But until now that has been dependent on getting a bill through Congress.
A version of the bill was approved by the House of Representatives last summer, but the administration is struggling to get similar legislation through the Senate in the face of opposition from Republicans and some dissident Democrats from states with big oil, coal and car industries.
The new ruling gives Mr Obama the firepower to meet the target anyway. It also makes it much more likely that he will get the bill through Congress as the House bill would take away the agency's powers to regulate the gases and substitute a more flexible system which industry would greatly prefer.
It will also greatly improve the chances of getting a deal in Copenhagen, since other countries will now know that the US can deliver on any undertakings it makes there.
But Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN climate change negotiations, said that any agreement made in the Danish capital could still be a “suicide pact” for small low-lying island states that will disappear if sea levels rise. He added that the current target of the negotiations – to limit global warming to 2C (3.6F) – would also still result in floods, droughts and sea level rise.
“What the small island nations are telling us here is anything over 1.5 C increase will be a suicide pact for them because it means their nations disappearing,” he said.
On the opening day of negotiations in Copenhagen, Mr Boer said the threat to such vulnerable countries made it even more important to reach a deal.
“The clock has ticked down to zero. After two years of negotiations, the time has come to deliver,” he said. “Developing countries desperately need tangible immediate action on these crucial issues.”
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change, also said vulnerable people will suffer if temperatures rise by even a small amount.
“Some even question the goal of 2C as a ceiling because that would lead to sea level rise on account of thermal expansion alone of 0.4 to 1.4 metres,” he said. “This increase added to the effect melting of snow and ice across the globe, could submerge several small island states and Bangladesh.”
Speaking on behalf of the small island states Dessima Williams, the chief negotiator for Grenada, said the group would not accept a “made for TV” solution.
She called for a legal treaty that would commit rich countries to cutting their carbon emissions by between 25 to 40 per cent.
“We are here to save ourselves from burning and drowning,” she said. “We are here to work towards an ambitious outcome.”
Other vulnerable countries like Nepal and Bangladesh also claimed that 2C will leave millions of people homeless and called on the rich world to provide money to help them adapt as part of any deal.
Achim Steiner, the head of the UN Environment Programme, agreed 2C will put many parts of the world in danger.
He said the world may need to meet again to push for an even tougher target in the future.
“Maybe in three or four year’s time, as the science firms up we may have to accelerate forward and increase the target to keep the world safe,” he said.
But Connie Hedegaard, the president of the negotiations, was optimistic the world will reach a deal that prevents the worst effects of global warming.
She said rich countries are willing to sign up to ambitious targets to cut carbon at the same time as giving poor countries billions of pounds to adapt.
“Let’s mark this meeting in history. Let’s open the door to the low carbon age. Let’s get it done now,” she said.