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Obama to take emissions cuts to Copenhagen

Move expected to aid faltering climate talks

By Juliet Eilperin and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post / November 26, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The White House said yesterday that President Obama will attend international climate talks next month in Copenhagen and commit the United States to a specific short-term target for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, providing new momentum for negotiations that had been faltering.

Obama will travel to the Danish capital on Dec. 9, one day before he visits nearby Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

His decision to attend - and for the first time, commit to an emission reduction target “in the range of’’ 17 percent below 2005 levels - prompted an outpouring of support from the environmental community and its Democratic allies, and it drew criticism from GOP opponents.

The White House called Obama’s decision “a sign of his continuing commitment and leadership to find a global solution to the global threat of climate change.’’ It would reverse US opposition to mandatory emission cuts during eight years of the Bush administration.

The target, however, amounts to a 5.5 percent cut below 1990 levels, well below what most other nations have called upon the United States to make. Several scientific bodies have suggested the industrialized world should cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The European Commission has pledged to cut its greenhouse output by at least 20 percent, or 30 percent if countries like the US made greater cuts.

Even so, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John F. Kerry, who is working to fashion a bipartisan compromise with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, said the administration’s decision to put specific goals on the table at the UN-sponsored talks amounts to “a global game changer with big reverberations here at home.’’

Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, a main sponsor of the climate bill the House passed in June, called Obama’s decision “a powerful statement that the US is back, ready to lead the world.’’

But Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said Obama’s attempts to “save’’ the global warming talks would not play well back home.

“I suspect most Americans would rather our president focus on our American economy and help put Americans back to work,’’ Inhofe said.

Material from the Associated Press was also used in this report.