Monday, 7 December 2009

Obama, in Shift, Expects Climate Deal at Summit

President Changes Schedule to Join Other Leaders, Signaling Revived Effort
WASHINGTON -- The White House said late Friday that President Barack Obama now expects a "meaningful" climate deal at a United Nations summit in Copenhagen, possibly involving a commitment for rich nations to provide $10 billion a year by 2012 to help developing countries fight climate change.
The White House said the U.S. is prepared to pay its "fair share" of the $10 billion.

The U.S. and some European governments have played down expectations for the Copenhagen conference over the past few weeks, saying it won't yield a legally binding accord. But in a statement Friday that cited signs of "progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord" the White House said Mr. Obama has decided to change his plans for attending the summit so that he can be in Copenhagen Dec. 18 when other world leaders are expected to be there, the White House said.
Mr. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon finalize a proposed legal finding that greenhouse-gas emissions endanger human health -- the legal trigger for regulating them under the Clean Air Act. Such a move, if announced ahead of Mr. Obama's visit to Copenhagen, could give the U.S. more leverage at the summit. It could also pressure members of the U.S. Senate to speed up work on legislation to cap U.S. emissions.
Many business leaders have said they would rather accept a system adopted by Congress that would allow them to buy and sell pollution credits to offset the cost of cleaner-energy technology, than be forced by EPA rules to install expensive hardware with no offsetting credits.

Mr. Obama had earlier said he would stop briefly at the summit on Dec. 9, on his way to collecting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. Some environmental groups had complained that meant Mr. Obama didn't expect to achieve any substantive agreements at the U.N. summit because most other leaders were scheduled to arrive the following week.
The White House said Mr. Obama discussed the status of the climate talks this week with the leaders of Australia, Germany, France and Britain and concluded that there "appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012" to help developing countries adapt to the potential impact of climate change.
How much the U.S. would be willing to contribute as its share of such a financial deal isn't clear. European officials have laid out specific estimates of how much the developed world will have to contribute over the next decade to help poor nations tackle climate change. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has said that by 2020 anywhere from €22 billion ($33 billion) to €50 billion will have to come directly from the public budgets of rich nations each year to help developing nations.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, said the Obama administration is "not focusing on a 2020 number," but rather is trying to determine what "an aggregate number should be from developed countries" over the next two or three years.
U.N. officials have previously said they expect international negotiators may agree to a $10 billion-a-year short-term financing package in Copenhagen -- an expectation that becomes more likely with Mr. Obama's fresh commitment.
European Pressphoto Agency
Nepal's top politicians held a cabinet meeting on Mount Everest to highlight the dangers of climate change ahead of international talks.
The White House also cited progress on a proposal to reach "an immediate, operational accord" on climate issues. But it remains unclear whether Mr. Obama and other world leaders can reach a deal to limit greenhouse-gas emissions that is more than a voluntary set of goals.
Mr. Obama's decision to invest more of his time and prestige in the Copenhagen summit raises the stakes for him and the Democratic Party at home. Mr. Obama had earlier said he would propose that the U.S. by 2020 would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels, consistent with pending climate legislation now stalled in the U.S. Senate. The concept of capping and cutting emissions is similar to proposals offered by the EU.
China and India, separately, have proposed cuts in the amount of greenhouse gases their economies produce per unit of gross domestic product. Climate diplomats refer to this as "carbon intensity." The key difference is that the U.S. and the EU are proposing cuts in overall emissions, while China and India are proposing slowing the growth in their overall emissions. The concern among many business leaders and members of Congress is that adopting a cap could put U.S. industry at a disadvantage.
In any event, Mr. Obama can't agree to a binding deal to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions without the approval of Congress. For now, appetite on Capitol Hill for dealing with climate issues appears limited. The Senate is embroiled in a debate over health-care reform, and has put off debate on a climate bill until spring.
Mr. Stern, the climate negotiator, also said developing countries will have to make their emissions pledges "transparent" to outsiders. He said the Obama administration isn't ready to follow Europe's lead in specifying how much money rich nations should contribute over the next decade to help poor countries respond to climate change.—Guy Chazan contributed to this article.
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