New Hope for Climate Talks: Obama to attend Copenhagen Negotiations

J.P. Leous

The climate debate vaulted onto the international stage Dec. 7, when delegations from across the planet gathered in Copenhagen to discuss next steps for an international climate plan.

Important progress can be made if the U.S. demonstrates climate leadership in Copenhagen — and recent events give us reason to for hope. President Barack Obama has confirmed that he will attend these critical discussions, showing the world that the United States has finally gotten serious about addressing climate change.

What’s more, in his announcement the President stated that he “is prepared to put on the table a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation.” For its part, China then stated it would commit to reducing its carbon intensity 40 — 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. These statements mark significant progress for an international climate deal. For the first time the planet’s two largest emitters — the U.S. and China — come to the table with the intention of trying to agree on binding targets.

The Obama Administration is sending a robust team to Copenhagen to support the President, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Assistant to the President Carol Browner. Each is scheduled to speak at events hosted by the Administration during the conference ranging from clean energy jobs to the role of public lands in climate solutions.

Some worry that an international climate deal will damage U.S. sovereignty and the economy. To the contrary, such an agreement will support our domestic efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution while creating a global market for American clean energy and efficiency technology and a host of other climate-related areas of expertise. Addressing climate change will also help protect our national security, according to the CIA and a report advised by over a dozen retired generals and admirals.

Currently, the United States is already working on passing its own Clean Energy Jobs bill. The legislation, the first of its kind to address global warming, passed in the House this summer and has been working its way through the Senate.

Advocates for the bill, including The Wilderness Society, had hoped the legislation would pass before Copenhagen so that the United States could attend with a strong statement of commitment. President Obama is taking a risk by attending the negotiations prior to final Congressional action. He clearly believes it is a risk worth taking for the future of our country, our children and mankind. It is a welcome reassertion of American leadership that we have lacked for a decade, and which we must have if the world is to agree on an effective plan to reduce global carbon pollution and protect our forests, wildlife, water and human health.