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Obama to Offer 17% U.S. Emissions Cut at Copenhagen Summit

November 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The White House said President Obama will travel to Copenhagen with a promise to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020. Judy Woodruff reports.

JIM LEHRER: The Obama administration announced a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions today, along with plans for the president to attend a key international climate conference next month.

Judy Woodruff begins our lead story coverage.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, that’s a good-looking bird.

JUDY WOODRUFF: While the president’s only public appearances today were the traditional pardoning of a turkey and a community service event with the first family, behind the scenes, White House officials announced that Mr. Obama would in fact attend a global climate change conference in Denmark next month.

In a statement, the White House indicated the president was — quote — “prepared to put on the table U.S. emissions reduction targets, beginning with a 17 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020.” The cuts would grow to 30 percent by 2025, 42 percent by 2030, and 83 percent by 2050.

Those targets are in line with the climate legislation passed in June by the U.S. House. A Senate bill, which is still being debated, calls for a larger 20 percent cut by 2020. Congress would also have to ratify any treaty that results from the meeting.

The announcement comes as the European Union has called on the U.S. and China to lay out emissions targets at the talks, contending that delays by the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases were hampering global efforts.

But China’s climate envoy said today the onus should be on developed countries, like the U.S.

YU QINGTAI: What developed countries should do is to take serious action on whether they have been true in words and resolute in deeds in order to solve this problem, which was caused by them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The original hope was that the conference would result in a new treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which the U.S. ultimately did not to sign. It now appears more likely the summit will produce only a framework for future action.

Still, the news of the president’s decision was welcomed by many, including India’s climate envoy, Shyam Saran, who was in Washington this week for the state visit by India’s prime minister.

U.S. must lead way

SHYAM SARAN: I think this is -- this is an extremely positive announcement, because there is no doubt that, without a very active and I would say even an enthusiastic role by the United States of America, these negotiations will not yield the kind of results that we are looking for. True, we would have hoped that the United States of America would have been more ambitious than what it has indicated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: India is also one of the world's largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, but is a relative newcomer to an industrialized economy. Saran says the country has concerns that a climate agreement could stifle economic development.

SHYAM SARAN: For us, climate change is not just a separate issue. It is intermixed with our -- our developmental, you know, issues itself. So, how we balance, you know, the problem of climate change with the other stresses and strains that the country is going through in this process of social and economic transformation, we would hope that there is some understanding of -- of that challenge that we face.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, a series of studies released today in the British medical journal The Lancet could give another boost to advocates of addressing climate change. The studies found that cutting carbon emissions could save millions of lives, mostly by reducing the number of deaths from heart and lung diseases.

LINDA BIRNBAUM, director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Climate change is not only about economics, and it is not only about the environment. It is about your health.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Linda Birnbaum is director of National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at NIH, which helped finance the studies.

LINDA BIRNBAUM: If we avoid increases in ozone, we avoid more hospital visits, we avoid more doctors visits, and we actually avoid death.

We know that, for example, that black carbon, which settles out very quickly, and we can have immediate benefit, affects people's health. We know that things like methane, which are produced from a variety of sources, have major impacts on our health and our well-being. And, again, by preventing them, we can prevent cardiovascular disease, we can prevent respiratory disease, we can prevent certain cancers, we can prevent certain obesity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite such reports, a new poll found the percentage of Americans who believe in global warming fell over the past year, from 80 percent to 72 percent. That could make passing a climate bill and reaching a global agreement all the more difficult.