President-elect Barack Obama sent an explicit message Tuesday to international negotiators of a new global warming treaty that, under his administration, the U.S would move to greatly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, and “help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”
The videotaped message, played to a conference on climate change in Los Angeles, electrified more than 700 delegates from 22 countries gathered to debate strategies for cutting planet-warming pollution.
“It looks as if we’re about to have a climate emissions Terminator in Washington,” panel moderator Steve Howard, CEO of the London-based nonprofit Climate Group, told the conference, which was convened by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Several European countries reportedly approached Obama’s transition team asking that he signal his intentions to diplomats who will gather in Poland next month to craft a successor to the 2005 Kyoto Protocol. Some environmentalists have called publicly on the president-elect to attend the talks, despite the fact that the Bush administration will be in charge of the U.S. delegation.
In his message, Obama pledged “a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change. … That will start with a federal cap-and-trade system. We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050.”
The pledge echoed Obama’s campaign positions, but tying them explicitly to the Poland talks “puts wings on the negotiations,” said Annie Petsonk, International Counsel to the Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. advocacy group. “It sends a clear message to the international community that the U.S. will back cap and trade.”
Under the carbon trading system adopted under the Kyoto Protocol, nations agree to set a limit on their greenhouse gas emissions but allow industries to trade pollution allowances among themselves to reduce the price of meeting the targets.
The United States is the only industrialized nation that has declined to join the Kyoto agreement. Last spring, national legislation to cap climate emissions failed in the U.S. Senate, amid lobbying from utilities, oil and automobile companies.
But Obama, in his taped message, pointed to rising sea levels, shrinking coastlines, record drought, spreading famine and stronger storms as evidence of climate change. “The science is beyond dispute, and the facts are clear,” he said.
He added, “Let me also say a special word to the delegates from around the world who will gather at Poland next month: Your work is vital to the planet. While I won’t be president at the time of your meeting and while the United States has only one president at a time, I’ve asked members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there.”
In a clear reference to the Bush administration’s stance, Obama declared, “Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations. … Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”