Obama presence at Copenhagen


Climate change

US President Barack Obama

Credit: Center for American Progress Action Fund

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US President Barack Obama will attend December's climate talks in Copenhagen, it has been announced, offering a 17 per cent emissions cut by 2020 in the hopes of driving progress towards a global climate agreement.

The President "believes it is possible to reach a meaningful agreement at Copenhagen", a White House statement read today, and is prepared to put on the table a US emissions reduction target of 17 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020, provided "robust mitigation contributions" are agreed upon by other countries.

"President Obama's willingness to go to Copenhagen and put numbers on the table are two necessary pieces to make a binding global agreement possible," said Jonathan Lash, president of environmental think tank, the World Resources Institute.

"The 17 per cent number is consistent with what [US] Congress has been debating and we hope legislation eventually reaches an even higher target. The President's leadership in Copenhagen will have an even greater impact if he is able to give the world a timetable for when he expects a bill on his desk."

In light of the President's goal to reduce emissions 83 per cent by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in this pending legislation would entail a 30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels in 2025 and a 42 per cent reduction below 2005 in 2030.

The presence of the high-profile leader is a welcome addition to the conference, raising hopes that a successful outcome may be reached, and is just one of recent signifiers that the US is making a significant turn around in its position on climate change.

But while UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has said that "it's critical that President Obama attends the climate change summit", as his attendance could be vital for reaching a global deal, it is notable that the President will only be dropping in to the talks on his way to receive his Nobel Prize in Oslo, and will not be present for the last crucial days - the time when a deal, if any is to be made, is most likely to come together.

Over 60 world leaders will be in attendance at the conference, with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd confirming his participation earlier this month.

"The Copenhagen meeting represents a critical moment in international efforts to reach a robust agreement on global action to tackle climate change," Rudd said when making the announcement.

Meanwhile, eyes continue to rest on China, the world's largest polluter, with President Hu Jintao still yet to announce any intentions to attend.