Breaking: Obama to attend Copenhagen, announces “a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020”

UPDATE:  Today’s White House’s news release, which includes the U.S. emission target for Copenhange, is reprinted in full at the end.

U.S. President Barack Obama will go to Copenhagen for a U.N. climate change meeting on December 9, hoping to add momentum to an international process despite slow progress on a domestic bill to cut carbon emissions. Obama planned to make a visit at the beginning of the climate negotiations in Denmark, an administration official told Reuters on Wednesday, before picking up the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in neighboring Oslo.

Despite the myriad incorrect predictions on the matter in the status quo media, this is no surprise to Climate Progress readers — see my October 9 post Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize in part because “the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.” Looks like he’ll be going to Copenhagen after all!

Still, the media can always find something to criticize Obama about.  Reuters adds:

Obama did not plan to return for the end of the December 7-18 meeting, when roughly 65 other heads of state and government are expected to attend, the official said.

Obama has made climate change a top priority of his administration, but a bill to cut U.S. emissions is bogged down in the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of climate change legislation.

“Bogged down”?  Or is it on track for passage next year? (see Sen. Baucus (D-MT): “There’s no doubt that this Congress is going to pass climate change legislation.”)  You decide whether that is accurate reporting or questionable editorializing.

Most nations have given up hopes of agreeing to a binding legal treaty text in Copenhagen, partly because of uncertainty about what the United States will be able to offer.

Or perhaps they’ve “given up hopes” of a binding legal treaty in Copenhagen because the leaders of the big emitters recently told the world their wasn’t going to be one!  (see World leaders say Copenhagen to be a steppingstone to final climate deal)

Environmentalists had hoped Obama would be present for the leaders meeting at the end of the talks to give legitimacy to a “politically binding” agreement that host Denmark still hopes to achieve.

And just who would these “environmentalists” be?  I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that Reuters doesn’t even bother to quote a single one.

Reuters can do better than this piece.

Here is the news release from the White House:

President to Attend Copenhagen Climate Talks

Administration Announces U.S. Emission Target for Copenhagen

The White House announced today that President Obama will travel to Copenhagen on Dec. 9 to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where he is eager to work with the international community to drive progress toward a comprehensive and operational Copenhagen accord.   The President has worked steadily on behalf of a positive outcome in Copenhagen throughout the year.  Based on the President’s work on climate change over the past 10 months – in the Major Economies Forum, the G20, bilateral discussions and multilateral consultations – and based on progress made in recent, constructive discussions with China and India’s Leaders, the President believes it is possible to reach a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen.  The President’s decision to go is a sign of his continuing commitment and leadership to find a global solution to the global threat of climate change, and to lay the foundation for a new, sustainable and prosperous clean energy future.

The White House also announced that, in the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that includes robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies, the President is prepared to put on the table a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation.  In light of the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83% by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in this pending legislation would entail a 30% reduction below 2005 levels in 2025 and a 42% reduction below 2005 in 2030.  This provisional target is in line with current legislation in both chambers of Congress and demonstrates a significant contribution to a problem that the U.S. has neglected for too long.  With less than two weeks to go until the beginning of the Copenhagen conference, it is essential that the countries of the world, led by the major economies, do what it takes to produce a strong, operational agreement that will both launch us on a concerted effort to combat climate change and serve as a stepping stone to a legally binding treaty.  The President is working closely with Congress to pass energy and climate legislation as soon as possible.

Underscoring President Obama’s commitment to American leadership on clean energy and combating climate change, the White House also announced today that a host of Cabinet secretaries and other top officials from across the Administration will travel to Copenhagen for the conference.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson are all scheduled to attend, along with Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner.

For the first time, the U.S. delegation will have a U.S. Center at the conference, providing a unique and interactive forum to share our story with the world.  In addition to working with other countries to advance American interests, U.S. delegates will keynote a series of events highlighting actions by the Obama Administration to provide domestic and global leadership in the transition to a clean energy economy.  Topics will range from energy efficiency investments and global commitments to renewables policy and clean energy jobs.  The following keynote events and speakers are currently scheduled:

  • Wednesday, December 9th: Taking Action at Home, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson
  • Thursday, December 10th: New Energy Future: the role of public lands in clean energy production and carbon capture, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
  • Friday, December 11th: Clean Energy Jobs in a Global Marketplace, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
  • Monday, December 14th: Leading in Energy Efficiency and Renewables, Energy Secretary Steven Chu
  • Tuesday, December 15th: Clean Energy Investments: creating opportunities for rural economies, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
  • Thursday, December 17th: Backing Up International Agreement with Domestic Action, CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Assistant to the President Carol Browner

These events will underline the historic progress the Obama Administration has made to address climate change and create a new energy future.  In addition to passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House of Representatives this summer, Administration officials will highlight an impressive resume of American action and accomplishments over the last 10 months, including:


  • Recovery Act: The U.S. is investing more than $80 billion in clean energy through its Recovery Act – including the largest-ever investment in renewable energy, which will double our generation of clean renewable energy like wind and solar in three years.
  • Efficiency Standard for Automobiles: President Obama announced the first ever joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks in May.  The new standards are projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program with a fuel economy gain averaging more than 5 percent per year and a reduction of approximately 900 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Advancing Comprehensive Energy Legislation: Passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation is a top priority for the Administration and significant progress has been made.  In June, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act that will promote clean energy investments and lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent by 2050.  The Senate continues to advance their efforts to pass comprehensive legislation and move the U.S.  closer to a system of clean energy incentives that create new energy jobs, reduce our dependence on oil, and cut pollution.
  • Appliance Efficiency Standards: The Obama Administration has forged more stringent energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential appliances, including microwaves, kitchen ranges, dishwashers, lightbulbs and other common appliances.  This common sense approach makes improved efficiency a manufacturing requirement for the everyday appliances used in practically every home and business, resulting in a significant reduction in energy use.  Altogether, about two dozen new energy efficiency standards will be completed in the next few years.
  • Offshore Energy Development: Within the Administration’s first 100 days, a new regulatory framework was established to facilitate the development of alternative energy projects in an economic and environmentally sound manner that allows us to tap into the vast energy potential of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that development of wind energy alone on the OCS may provide an additional 1,900 gigawatts of clean energy to the U.S.
  • Emissions Inventory Rule: For the first time, the U.S. will catalogue greenhouse gas emissions from large emission sources – an important initial step toward measurable and transparent reductions.


  • The Major Economies Forum (MEF): President Obama launched the MEF in March 2009, creating a new dialogue among developed and emerging economies to combat climate change and promote clean energy. At the July L’Aquila summit, MEF Leaders announced important new agreements to support the UN climate talks and launched a new Global Partnership to promote clean energy technologies.
  • Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies: The President spearheaded an agreement at the Pittsburgh G20 summit for all G20 nations to phase out their fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term and to work with other countries to do the same.  Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations followed the G20 lead at their summit in Singapore, expanding the number of countries committing to these subsidies.  According to the International Energy Agency, this measure alone could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent or more by 2050.
  • Bilateral Energy and Climate Partnerships: The U.S. is accelerating its collaboration with China, India, Mexico, Canada and other key international partners to combat climate change, coordinate clean energy research and development, and support the international climate talks.
  • Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas: President Obama proposed a partnership with our neighbors in the western hemisphere to advance energy security and combat climate change.  An early product of this cooperation is Chile’s Renewable Energy Center, which receives technical support from the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Phasing Down HFCs (Hydrofluorocarbons): The U.S. joined Canada and Mexico in proposing to phase-down HFC emissions, a very potent greenhouse gas, in developed and developing countries under the Montreal Protocol.  This represents a down payment of about 10% of the emission reductions necessary to cut global greenhouse gas emissions to half their current levels by 2050.

11 Responses to Breaking: Obama to attend Copenhagen, announces “a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020”

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    I’m glad to hear that he is going. As it should be.

    Yet, I think that he should really camp out and be there the entire time — helping out, pushing and supporting our own delegation, not taking “no” for an answer, and so forth. We humans are still treating this matter as if it’s “fairly important” at best, and that’s only X% of us. We aren’t even close to treating it with the importance it deserves. Not even close.

    Why was/is it even a question of whether he would visit the conference, among many in the media and (who knows) in the administration itself. Again, in my view, he should be there (at least in Copenhagen) the entire time, doing his other important tasks in a hotel or in the Embassy, while attending the pivotal climate meetings.

    Well, somethin’ is better than nothin’, I suppose.


  2. Leif says:

    Yes, great to have conformation and I tend to agree with Jeff above. President Obama has been playing his cards very close to his vest on this issue. We all need to send encouragement. Call or write the White House. Have an IMPACT now for you and yours. These can be historic times only if we make them so…

  3. mike roddy says:

    I’m glad Obama’s going, but the key to climate legislation in the US appears to be the behavior of a few Blue Dog Democrats and moderate Republicans. The delay in the US would appear to be caused by the fluid nature of these talks, which unfortunately will include input from lobbyists for dirty industries.

    Depending on who you believe, the swing Senators are either trying to wring concessions for coal or nuclear in their state, deliberately using their power in the 60 vote context to weaken the legislation however they can, or acting positively to see that the bill gets passed.

    I hope you can go into this in detail in a future post, Joe.

  4. Will says:

    Joe, you’re going to back Obama, even when he’s pushing the 17% cut from 05′ levels by 2020, when we all know that is grossly inadequate? Those are targets McCain probably would have had if he had been elected. Where’s the bold leadership?

    The fact is Obama has pushed climate and energy to the back of his agenda, and has allowed people close to him to convince him health care was more important…at the expense of Copenhagen.

  5. Greg N says:

    Can we all make a special effort in the coming few days to keep pushing? Emailing representatives, phoning radio stations, writing comments? It would be horrible to lose this opportunity and be left wishing we’d done more.

  6. Obama says 17%. I would like it much better if he had said from 17% to 20%, incorporating figures from both the House and current Senate bill. It sounds like he is settling for 17% and implying that there is no chance to improve that as the bill goes through the Senate.

  7. john says:

    Am I glad Obama is going? Well, yes. But I have to agree with those who are dissappointed with the 17% by 2020 goal he takes with him.

    We have to separate the poltically possible from the scientifically necessary; one is immutable, the other flexible; one must be moved, the other cannot be.

    17% by 2020 is grossly inadequate. It cannot even be argued that it is a start, because a goal that weak is really the end — the end of our chance to do anything about this issue in time to make a difference. The methane is bubbling. It doesn’t care about politics. It won’t stop because we tried really, really hard. It will only stop if we take the necessary action — which is to cut 20% below 1990 level by 2020, and then 80% by 2040.

    Hard? You bet.

    Impossible? Probably not.

    Necessary? Almost certainly.

  8. Danrodary says:

    From europe, it is very frustrating to see that:
    -most nations base their 2020 emission reduction target on 1990 levels (in agreement with Kyoto protocol),
    -US are basing theirs on 2005 levels (which is fine in theory)
    -AND such an informed place as your blog, Joe, is not giving the information to compare immediately, thus allowing politician rethoric to be at play even here.

    It’s like comparing apple and oranges.

    I read somewhere (sorry no link) that -17% on 2005 levels is roughly -4% from 1990 levels for USA. Please correct this figure if needed, but then indicate both each time this target is mentionned.

    If the policy process in the US has currently only gotten to -4% compared with -20, -25 or -30% which are the figures talked about in European countries, then so be it, but let’s talk frankly, and make clear and obvious, as it is in reality, that the US are trailing a long, long way behind almost every nation that has pledged anything at all on this planet.

    No bad intent in there, we all know 4% for the second biggest emitter in the world is a major step in the good direction, but this is just a call for reality check and frank talk, and frank position as a nation.

    Sorry for Obama and all the good work done in so little time, but as long as US are not pledging for AT LEAST 20% REDUCTION FROM 1990 LEVELS, then the only honnest attitude at Copenhagen and anywhere else should be humility.
    There is no reward for “we did not do a thing for 15 years and behaved very good in the last 12 mo”, other than “keep moving, fast!”

  9. Greenhouse gas emissions have risen 15% since 1990.

  10. Cynthia says:

    Greenius, I think the actual figures are 30% rise in GHG emissions since 1990. At any rate, things haven’t been going too well. (Understatement of the year!) The 4% reduction proposed by the U.S. (by 2020) is the minumum the U.S. could propose without looking completely irresponsible. Certainly it’s no where near what’s needed. My only consolation is the fact that it is a start…hopefully only the beginning of what Obama plans!!

  11. Cynthia says:

    Considering the fact that the U.S. and China together are responsible for about 40% of all the emissions, it’s actually a slap in the face to humanity, come to think of it! (How sneaky to insert “below 2005 levels” instead of “1990 levels”. Wonder who came up with that?)