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Bound for Copenhagen, Obama Faces Climate Change Obstacles

Ray Suarez speaks with climate experts about what to expect from President Obama's trip to the Copenhagen climate change summit next month.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Ray Suarez has more on today's developments.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    We get two views now on both the substance and politics coming from Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University — he is also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Prize in 2007 — and Samuel Thernstrom, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the George W. Bush administration.

    And, Michael Oppenheimer, it wasn't always clear that President Obama was going to Copenhagen. Do you welcome this decision by the White House?

  • MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER:

    Yes. Certainly, it's a very good development.

    The U.S., until recently, was the world's biggest emitter of these gases. It's been viewed as the biggest obstacle at the negotiations because of a relatively obdurate position over the last eight years, before the Obama administration, and the U.S. is still the world's political leader.

    Putting that together — together with Obama's leadership skills, I think this is a very important decision. It will get the negotiations off to a very sound start.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Samuel Thernstrom, are you glad the president's going to Copenhagen?

    SAMUEL THERNSTROM, resident fellow, American Enterprise Institute: I am glad he's going. And I think — I agree with Mr. Oppenheimer that it will probably help the negotiations somewhat.

    It is surprising the president has chosen to go early in the conference, rather than late, when other heads of states will be arriving. He always said that he would attend if his presence could seal the deal with other global leaders. Hard to seal the deal if you're not there when the other leaders are attending as well.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Some of it has to do with the calendar, though, doesn't it? He will be in the neighborhood, in Oslo…

  • SAMUEL THERNSTROM:

    Sure. Republican

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    … accepting the Nobel Peace Prize…

  • SAMUEL THERNSTROM:

    Right. Right.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    … but going to Copenhagen before, rather than after, that.

  • SAMUEL THERNSTROM:

    Right. He — he could have gone to Copenhagen on his way back from the Peace Prize.

    He also could have decided that attending Copenhagen in the closing days, when the final deal would be made, was his most important priority for his travel schedule that month.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, Michael Oppenheimer, along with the announcement that he was going came specific years and specific targets for reduction, using 2005 as a baseline for lowering the emissions of greenhouse gases from all sources in the United States. A significant announcement?