Friday, March 19, 2010

The European Union’s point woman on global warming Thursday pressed the U.S. government to step up its efforts to forge an international climate deal, arguing that both the EU and the U.S. will reap benefits from an accord.

“In the end, we think that those who will be leading this economically will also be the ones who will lead politically in the world of the 21st century,” said Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action. “Those who become the most energy-efficient will also benefit economically.”

Ms. Hedegaard helped chair the December U.N. climate change gathering in Copenhagen, one that even organizers said fell far short of its original expectations. President Obama’s major energy policy, including a “cap-and-trade” system to curb greenhouse gas emissions, faces an uncertain future in the Senate after passing the House last summer.

And new opinion surveys in the United States find growing skepticism among voters about some of the claims of the dangers of global warming.

A Gallup poll released earlier this week found that popular concern about many top environmental issues is at a “20-year low.” It also found that public worries over eight green-related issues - from air pollution to the state of rain forests - have dropped by as much as nine percentage points in the last year alone.

In an address at the National Press Building, Ms. Hedegaard said the United States and the EU would receive a number of benefits from a joint effort to revive a global approach to climate change.

“If we do this intelligently, we can pick tools in addressing climate change that at the same time will benefit energy security, it will benefit environment, it will benefit air quality and it will benefit gross and innovation,” she said.

If the United States fails to lead, she warned, “others will harvest gains.” Ms. Hedegaard said China, South Korea, Brazil and India are moving quickly to deal with climate change. She added it was “crucial” for Washington to send a signal to developing economies of its commitment and willingness to act.

Ms. Hedegaard said the EU’s new strategy is expected to help make Europe the “most climate-friendly region in the world” by cutting emissions by 20 percent in the next decade, compared to emissions levels in 1990. She said the European bloc would even increase the reductions to 30 percent if other major nations agree to corresponding cuts..

The next U.N. climate summit will take place at the end of the year in Cancun, Mexico. The EU climate minister said participating nations “must manage expectations carefully” and “focus on specific deliverables” to avoid the disappointments that came in the wake of the Copenhagen gathering.

“If it fails this time, then there will be a risk,” Ms. Hedegaard said. “If nothing came out of U.S., where would that leave the rest of the world?”

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