WASHINGTON, DC, November 25, 2009 (ENS) – President Barack Obama will travel to Copenhagen on December 9 to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the White House announced today. “He is eager to work with the international community” to achieve “a strong, operational agreement that will both launch us on a concerted effort to combat climate change and serve as a stepping stone to a legally binding treaty,” the White House said in a statement.

For the first time, President Obama has given a numerical figure for a U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. It will be “in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation,” the White House said.

President Barack Obama (Photo courtesy The White House)

In view of the President’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 83 percent by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in this pending legislation would entail a 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2025 and a 42 percent reduction below 2005 in 2030, said the White House.

“This provisional target is in line with current legislation in both chambers of Congress and demonstrates a significant contribution to a problem that the U.S. has neglected for too long,” said the White House.

The President is working closely with Congress to pass energy and climate legislation as soon as possible, the White House said. The House passed its version of a climate bill in June. The Senate will consider its bill in the spring, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced last week.

The White House qualified the 17 percent emissions reduction target by saying that it is tabled, “in the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that includes robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies.”

The G8 nations and major economies have agreed to attempt to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels of more than 2°Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature, or around 1.2°C above today’s level. Scientific evidence shows that this requires global emissions of greenhouse gases to peak before 2020 and then be cut by at least 50 percent of their 1990 levels by 2050.

Greenhouse gases rise from the Conemaugh coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. (Photo by Stefan Schlohmer)

The newly announced U.S. 17 percent target is lower than those announced by other governments. The European Union has pegged its target at 20 percent and said that could be raised to 30 percent if other nations go higher too.

Japan has announced the goal of cutting emissions 25 percent by 2020 but said last month it could back away from that goal if an international climate change deal at Copenhagen is not achieved.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told an EU-Russian summit Friday that Russia would increase its emission reduction target for 2020 from a 10-to-15 percent cut below 1990 levels to a 22-to-25 percent cut.

President Obama and visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, yesterday both committed to “significant mitigation actions,” in other words, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, at Copenhagen.

Last week while visiting Beijing, President Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao announced the same commitment. Niether India nor China has announced a numerical greenhouse gas reductions target.

President Barack Obama meets with senior administration officials. November 23, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza courtesy The White House)

The White House also announced today that a host of Cabinet secretaries and other top officials from across the administration will travel to Copenhagen for the conference.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson are all scheduled to attend, along with Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner.

“The President believes it is possible to reach a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen,” the White House stated, “based on the President’s work on climate change over the past 10 months – in the Major Economies Forum, the G20, bilateral discussions and multilateral consultations – and based on progress made in recent, constructive discussions with China and India’s leaders.”

For the first time, the U.S. delegation will have a U.S. Center at the conference to tell the American story to the world.

In addition to working with other countries to advance American interests, U.S. delegates will keynote a series of events highlighting actions by the Obama Administration to provide domestic and global leadership in the transition to a clean energy economy.

Topics will range from energy efficiency investments and global commitments to renewables policy and clean energy jobs.

In addition to passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House of Representatives this summer, Administration officials will highlight American action and accomplishments over the last 10 months, including:

In the United States:

  • Recovery Act: The U.S. is investing more than $80 billion in clean energy through its Recovery Act – including the largest-ever investment in renewable energy, which will double our generation of clean renewable energy like wind and solar in three years.
  • Efficiency Standard for Automobiles: President Obama announced the first ever joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks in May. The new standards are projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program with a fuel economy gain averaging more than 5 percent per year and a reduction of approximately 900 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Advancing Comprehensive Energy Legislation: Passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation is a top priority for the Administration and significant progress has been made. In June, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act that will promote clean energy investments and lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent by 2050. The Senate continues to advance their efforts to pass comprehensive legislation and move the U.S. closer to a system of clean energy incentives that create new energy jobs, reduce our dependence on oil, and cut pollution.
  • Appliance Efficiency Standards: The Obama Administration has forged more stringent energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential appliances, including microwaves, kitchen ranges, dishwashers, lightbulbs and other common appliances. This common sense approach makes improved efficiency a manufacturing requirement for the everyday appliances used in practically every home and business, resulting in a significant reduction in energy use. Altogether, about two dozen new energy efficiency standards will be completed in the next few years.
  • Offshore Energy Development: Within the Administration’s first 100 days, a new regulatory framework was established to facilitate the development of alternative energy projects in an economic and environmentally sound manner that allows us to tap into the vast energy potential of the Outer Continental Shelf. The National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that development of wind energy alone on the OCS may provide an additional 1,900 gigawatts of clean energy to the U.S.
  • Emissions Inventory Rule: For the first time, the U.S. will catalogue greenhouse gas emissions from large emission sources – an important initial step toward measurable and transparent reductions.

Internationally:

  • The Major Economies Forum (MEF): President Obama launched the MEF in March 2009, creating a new dialogue among developed and emerging economies to combat climate change and promote clean energy. At the July L’Aquila summit, MEF Leaders announced important new agreements to support the UN climate talks and launched a new Global Partnership to promote clean energy technologies.
  • Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies: The President spearheaded an agreement at the Pittsburgh G20 summit for all G20 nations to phase out their fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term and to work with other countries to do the same. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations followed the G20 lead at their summit in Singapore, expanding the number of countries committing to these subsidies. According to the International Energy Agency, this measure alone could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent or more by 2050.
  • Bilateral Energy and Climate Partnerships: The U.S. is accelerating its collaboration with China, India, Mexico, Canada and other key international partners to combat climate change, coordinate clean energy research and development, and support the international climate talks.
  • Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas: President Obama proposed a partnership with our neighbors in the western hemisphere to advance energy security and combat climate change. An early product of this cooperation is Chile’s Renewable Energy Center, which receives technical support from the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Phasing Down HFCs (Hydrofluorocarbons): The U.S. joined Canada and Mexico in proposing to phase-down emissions of HFC, a potent greenhouse gas, in developed and developing countries under the Montreal Protocol. This represents a down payment of about 10 percent of the emission reductions necessary to cut global greenhouse gas emissions to half their current levels by 2050.

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