- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

President Obama will commit the U.S. to dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases by 2050 and will personally travel to a U.N. climate summit next month to drive the pledge, administration officials said Wednesday.

Despite not having a consensus in Congress for climate change legislation, the administration says things are progressing enough that it will commit to reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

“We now hope other major economies are going to put forth ambitious actions of their own,” said Carol Browner, the White House’s chief climate adviser. Another White House adviser, Mike Froman, said Mr. Obama made the decision to travel to Denmark “to give momentum to the negotiations there.”

Ending heavy speculation about his participation, the White House said the president will take part in the conference on Dec. 9 before heading to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

At least 65 world leaders will attend the summit, but unlike Mr. Obama, most are expected to attend the final days of the Dec. 7-18 conference.

Yvo de Boer, U.N. climate treaty chief, told reporters in Bonn on Wednesday: “I think it’s critical that President Obama attend the climate change summit in Copenhagen. The world is very much looking to the United States to come forward with an emission reduction target and contribute to financial support to help developing countries.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and co-author of climate legislation in the Senate, said news of Mr. Obama’s trip to Copenhagen could be a “game changer with big reverberations” on Capitol Hill.

“For the first time, an American administration has proposed an emissions reduction target, and when President Obama lands in Copenhagen, it will emphasize that the United States is in it to win it,” Mr. Kerry said.

The Obama administration said negotiations in Congress, and gestures by major emerging economies such as India and China, have eased the way for the president to make the commitments.

India, China and other developing nations have been a sticking point because they argue that they should not be tied to the same targets as developed economies, which have been spewing greenhouse gases for many decades.

A House-passed climate bill would slash emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. A Senate bill seeks a 20 percent reduction over the next decade, but that number is likely to come down to win the votes of moderate Democrats.

The European Union has urged the United States, as well as China, to deliver greenhouse gas emission targets at the summit, saying their delays were hindering global efforts to curb climate change.

The conference had originally been intended to produce a new global climate change treaty on limiting emissions of greenhouse gases that would replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

However, hopes for a legally binding agreement have dimmed lately, with leaders saying the summit is more likely to produce a template for future action to cut emissions blamed for global warming.

While Mr. Obama tried to tamp down expectations during his eight-day trip to Asia earlier this month, he also called on world leaders to come to an agreement that has “immediate operational effect” and is not just a political declaration.

Several other administration officials will also attend the conference, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The United States hopes to counter complaints by some delegates in Copenhagen that the U.S. has yet to establish mandatory emission reductions and that - despite Mr. Obama’s speeches - it may not anytime soon, given the partisan fight in Congress over legislation to require economywide reductions in heat-trapping pollution.

Congressional Republicans, as well as some centrist Democrats, have opposed the climate legislation, arguing it will result in higher energy costs at a time of economic problems.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a leading opponent of Democratic cap-and-trade legislation, said Mr. Obama’s appearance in Copenhagen won’t help pass a bill in the Senate. He said resistance to greenhouse gas cuts by China, India and other developing nations will doom support for a treaty and legislation among lawmakers.

“The U.S. Senate has made clear on numerous occasions that unilateral action by the United States is unacceptable, because it will harm our economy and have virtually no effect on climate change,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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