U.S. Has Dual Task On Climate Change

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision to make her first overseas trip to China, where she arrives today, highlights the daunting tasks the new administration faces as the world scrambles to forge a new climate-change treaty this year: trying to persuade emerging economies to make deep cuts in greenhouse-gas releases that they have long resisted while coaxing Congress to adopt first-ever limits on the United States' own emissions.

These two challenges, which are key to securing a deal when climate negotiators convene December in Copenhagen, mean that President Obama and his deputies must launch a major push abroad and at home on an issue that President George W. Bush only reluctantly addressed. Bush ultimately launched a regular meeting of the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitters -- an initiative Obama hopes to sustain -- but Bush's unwillingness to commit to binding domestic emissions cuts effectively stalled international efforts to curb global warming.

The new administration's campaign is on display this week as Clinton travels to Asia and President Obama journeys to Canada.

"This is an opportunity waiting to be seized," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who held a hearing last month titled "The Road to Copenhagen" and had privately urged Clinton to make her first overseas trip to China to discuss global warming.

Several foreign officials have praised the new administration for its outreach. Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, met with administration officials involved in climate-change issues during a trip to Washington last week and noted, "They are very much engaged already."

"This is the year to finalize an agreement," he said. "Everybody is working on that direction, also here. That is the sentiment and the determination they have."

The new U.S. climate envoy, Todd Stern, is traveling with Clinton throughout Asia, and he has met privately with his British counterparts and others.

Many developing nations, however, say they are waiting to see whether the United States adopts a binding carbon cap and what emissions cuts it will seek from major emerging economies.

"The question is: How will the U.S. engage?" said Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa's minister of environmental affairs and tourism, in a recent interview. "To enable us to move forward, the U.S. must show its hand."

Obama has pledged to cut U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below that level by 2050. But European and developing nations have called for industrialized nations to cut emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and they are waiting to see whether the United States will enact a climate bill with ambitious targets by the time negotiators meet to work out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the pioneering pact that the United States rejected.

A State Department official familiar with the issue, who requested anonymity under rules set by the department, said top Obama officials recognize the challenge they face.

"We are committed to getting a deal done in Copenhagen, and it obviously has to be a deal that the United States can join in," the official said. "The domestic legislation is going to be enormously important in telling us how far we're going to be able to go."

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