Putting his prestige on the line, President Barack Obama will personally commit the U.S. to a goal of substantially cutting greenhouse gases at next month's Copenhagen climate summit. He will insist America is ready to tackle global warming despite resistance in Congress over higher costs for businesses and homeowners.
Obama will attend the start of the conference Dec. 9, a week from next Wednesday, before heading to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. He will "put on the table" a U.S. commitment to cut emissions by 17 percent over the next decade, on the way to reducing heat-trapping pollution by 80 percent by mid-century, the White House said.
Cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by one-sixth in just a decade would be likely to hike energy bills, but the administration says there would be important health trade-offs. Slashing carbon dioxide emissions could save millions of lives, mostly by reducing preventable deaths from heart and lung diseases, according to studies published this week in The Lancet British medical journal.
The White House said Obama's decision to attend the international conference in Denmark was "a sign of his continuing commitment and leadership to find a global solution to the global threat of climate change." But Obama's stopover on the conference's second day — instead of later when negotiations will be most intense and when most other national leaders will take part — disappointed some European and U.N. climate officials, as well as some environmentalists. Others said Obama's personal appeal will resonate with the delegates from more than 75 countries and help reset the U.S. image on the climate issue after eight years in which the Bush administration staunchly opposed mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases.
The president's first trip to Copenhagen — just last month — was less than fruitful. He made an unsuccessful pitch for the 2016 Summer Olympics to be held in Chicago. Obama's participation had been in doubt since it became clear that the Dec. 7-18 conference was unlikely to produce a binding agreement, The original goal of the conference was to produce a new global climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. But in recent weeks it became clear that delegates were likely to produce at best an outline for an agreement to be considered late next year. Administration officials don't want to repeat the mistake of Kyoto, when the U.S. agreed to emission reductions but never implemented them because of strong political opposition at home. The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto agreement.
Most environmentalists hailed Obama's decision to go to Copenhagen, even if it's early in the conference. They said it will help set the tone of the talks and reverse America's image internationally on climate change. Said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University: "The U.S. has stood as the bad guy for so long that it's critically important for the U.S. president to set the tone for the meeting." But Kyle Ash, climate policy adviser for Greenpeace USA, said Obama should be even more involved, and later in the conference. "The Copenhagen climate summit is not about a photo opportunity. It's about getting a global agreement to stop climate chaos. President Obama needs to be there at the same time as all the other wold leaders," he said.