Mr. Obama has shown signs of push and pull on this issue.
Two weeks ago, the president appeared to be leaning to the international side, telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel that “there’s going to be more to do,” the same day an energy bill passed the U.S. House.
But with House passage under its belt - a substantial accomplishment for Mr. Obama - the White House appears to be tilting back, saying success will be measured by Congress, not international action.
“I think in many ways success for us is going to be getting something through Congress and to his desk that puts in place a system, a market-based system that lessens the amount of greenhouses gases in the air,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs. “That’s going to be the true measure of things.”
The split between domestic and international concerns dogged Mr. Obama’s predecessors. President Clinton in 1998 signed the Kyoto Protocol committing to specific cuts, but the pact never came to the Senate for a vote because it was certain to be defeated.
President George W. Bush, meanwhile, began talking about the issue late in his term and never proposed a hard-and-fast cap on greenhouse gases. Instead, he pushed for new technology and for action by India, China and other emerging economies to join in any agreement.
Mr. Obama’s attempt to balance the two constituencies may be impossible, said Christopher C. Horner, senior fellow Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of two books on climate change. He said that if Mr. Obama promises too much to foreign leaders, he risks good will in Congress after the “supreme political gamble 219 members of the House just made on his behalf” by voting for Democrats’ bill.
Mr. Horner also said the tug of war is a big change from the Bush years, when the president faced opposition from both sides.
“Europeans and Democrats suddenly find themselves rushing to lecture one another and the press that an administration is limited by what Congress is willing to do. Quite refreshing awareness, on the heels of a decade of ignoring unanimous Senate instruction to Clinton to not agree to Kyoto, because they needed a totem - Kyoto - in their anti-Bush struggle,” he said.
As with most world leader gatherings, protesters used the event to try to draw attention to their complaints.
Wire services reported break-ins at power stations across Italy, while in the U.S., Greenpeace said 11 of its members were arrested after scaling Mount Rushmore and unfurling a banner challenging Mr. Obama to do more to address climate change.
“We’re at a moment in history where President Obama must show real leadership on global warming, not only for Congress and the American people, but for the world. Unfortunately, the steps taken to address the crisis so far have been grossly inadequate,” said Greenpeace USA Deputy Campaigns Director Carroll Muffett. “While President Obama’s speeches on global warming have been inspiring, we’ve seen a growing gap between the president’s words and his actions.”
Obama administration officials cautioned against getting wrapped up in the specific targets, saying the commitments are a good step and arguing there’s room to do more by December.
They also said the agreement on limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, as well as unspecified pledges of assistance to help developing countries adapt, will help.
But aid groups were hoping for more.