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November 25, 2009

U.S. Puts Its Cards On The Table

Climate Change: Obama will offer U.S. emission cuts of 17% by 2020

Cheryl Hogue

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After months of resisting international calls for specifics on how much the U.S. is willing to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, the Obama Administration finally showed its hand today.

President Barack Obama will formally offer to cut U.S. emissions "in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020" as part of a global climate-change deal, the White House said. This obligation would be made part of an international agreement that includes emissions-control commitments by China and other emerging economies, the White House said.

Countries are meeting to work out the terms of that accord at a major climate-change conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 7–18. As part of the lead-up to this gathering, many industrialized countries have already put forth emissions-reduction targets for themselves. But the U.S., historically the largest source of greenhouse gas releases from human activity, has not—until now.

In recent months, Obama Administration officials have said they were waiting for Congress to complete deliberations on clean energy legislation before setting a number. They wanted to base any U.S. emission commitments to the international community on a level backed by lawmakers.

The 17% reduction by 2020 that Obama will offer in Copenhagen reflects the terms of a bill (H.R. 2454) the House of Representatives passed in June (C&EN, July 6, page 8). The House measure also calls for cuts of at least 80% by 2050, compared with 2005 levels. In the Senate, legislation (S. 1733) that cleared the Environment & Public Works Committee in early November would require a 20% reduction by 2020, growing to 80% by 2050, as compared with 2005 levels. But this legislation is stalled.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a sponsor of S. 1733, described the White House's new 17% emissions-lowering goal as "a provisional target, contingent on the support of Congress."

Obama will attend the Copenhagen meeting on Dec. 9, according to the White House. Most heads of state, however, are not scheduled to show up until the end of that gathering. Obama will be in Europe during the first week of the Copenhagen meeting, traveling to Oslo on Dec. 10 to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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