Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Obama Calls Climate Change Accord an Important Milestone

Washington - President Obama said he worked closely with major world leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen during marathon negotiating sessions to reach "an important milestone" to confront the threat posed by unchecked global warming.

Obama met with the leaders of Brazil, China, India and South Africa late on December 18 and agreed to set a goal of limiting the rise of the average global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Before Obama's direct intervention, it was uncertain if the more than 190 delegations at the conference would reach any accord after 12 days of intense negotiations.

The Copenhagen Accord is a nonbinding agreement that was "recognized" by delegates at the summit on December 19 and did not require unanimous support. It requires that countries specify by February 1, 2010, their pledges for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

The measure does require that countries make commitments and then show the world what they are doing to meet them, Obama told reporters. "With respect to the emissions targets that are going to be set, we know that they will not be by themselves sufficient to get to where we need to get by 2050," he added.

"That's why I say that this is going to be a first step," he said.

The climate-change summit had hoped to reach agreement on emissions targets, financial aid for developing countries, and a system for measurement and monitoring of emissions.

Obama said the system for evaluating whether countries are meeting their commitments will be similar to how the World Trade Organization examines progress or the lack of progress that countries make on trade commitments.

"It will not be legally binding, but what it will do is allow for each country to show to the world what they're doing, and there will be a sense on the part of each country that we're in this together, and we'll know who is meeting and who's not meeting the mutual obligations that have been set forth," the president said.

Obama had a one-on-one meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao earlier in the day in an attempt to resolve differences, and then again in the evening with Wen, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. He also worked closely with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who was representing African nations.

"Now, this progress did not come easily, and we know that this progress alone is not enough. Going forward, we're going to have to build on the momentum that we've established here in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time," Obama said in a press briefing December 18 following his meetings.

"We've come a long way, but we have much further to go," he said.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, the primary author of the Senate's climate-change bill, told reporters that action by Obama on the last day of the 12-day international conference "broke through the bickering and set the stage for a final deal and for Senate passage this spring of major legislation at home." The U.S. House of Representatives has already adopted a climate-change bill, and is awaiting the Senate bill to resolve differences before sending legislation to the president.

Obama returned to Washington before the final session December 19 for the delegates to accept the accord worked out the night before. Poor weather conditions in the Washington area forced his return.

The next climate summit will be held in mid-2010 and be hosted by Germany.

After arriving in Copenhagen, Obama told delegates that the United States would continue on its course to reduce its emissions and to move toward a clean-energy economy, regardless of the outcome of the Copenhagen conference.

"It is in our mutual interest to achieve a global accord in which we agree to certain steps, and to hold each other accountable to certain commitments," he said. "I just want to say to this plenary session that we are running short on time."

On the day before, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the assembled delegates ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2009/December/20091217112556eaifas0.7601435.html ) that the United States would be part of fast-start funding that would provide $30 billion by 2012 to help less-developed nations meet climate-control targets.

The fund to help developing countries would rise to $100 billion a year by 2020, Clinton told the conference.

Obama announced in November that the United States would cut greenhouse gas emissions approximately 17 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, which is in line with targets set by the U.S. House of Representatives in legislation it has already approved. The Senate has yet to act on similar legislation, but it was expected to set emissions targets slightly higher, at 20 percent.

Obama told delegates that the United States, like most major industrialized nations, would reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050.

"All major economies must put forward decisive national actions that will reduce their emissions and begin to turn the corner on climate change," Obama said in an 11-minute address to the conference, which was meeting in the Bella Center in Copenhagen.

The 15th Session of the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) includes representatives from more than 190 nations. The Copenhagen climate accord is designed to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions an average of 5 percent by 2012. The United States didn't ratify the Kyoto Protocol and rejected that target because it made no demands on major developing countries.

Excessive greenhouse gas emissions are thought to cause the Earth's temperature to rise, which carries with it substantial impact on the climate, posing dangers to human and animal health and the environment.

Obama also met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about efforts by the two nations to reach agreement on a treaty that would further reduce their nuclear arsenals below levels that had been set in the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as START I. That treaty expired December 5; negotiating teams have been meeting literally around the clock in marathon sessions to put the final touches on a new agreement.

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