America is the only major industrialised country that has yet to reveal its emissions reduction plan. The official did not give details on the stringency of the proposed cuts, but it is thought likely they would range from 14% to 20% from 2005 levels – still below those put forward by the EU and other industrialised countries.
“The one thing the president has made clear is we want to take action consistent with the legislative process,” the official told reporters. “[We] don’t want to get out ahead or be at odds with what can be produced through legislation.
The Observer reported on Sunday that the US was considering a “provisional target” at Copenhagen.
Todd Stern, the state department climate change envoy, told the Observer: “What we are looking at is to see whether we could put down essentially a provisional number that would be contingent on our legislation.”
Stern, who was speaking in Copenhagen, where he was meeting Danish officials, said: “We are looking at that, there are people we need to consult with.”
The administration official shared that caution today, saying: “Whatever number we put on the table will be with reference to what can come out of the legislative process.”
Obama has yet to decide if he will join about 65 other leaders – including Gordon Brown and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel – who have said they will attend the climate change summit, the official told reporters.
“What the president has always said is if it looks as though the negotiations have proceeded sufficiently that going to Copenhagen would give a final impetus, a push, to the process, then he would be willing to go,” the senior administration official said. “We’re making the judgment as to whether it makes sense for him to go.”
The announcement that Obama would propose a target for cutting emissions marks a shift in strategy for the White House. His administration, until today, has resisted international pressure to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, fearing a domestic backlash if it were seen to pre-empt Congress in dealing with climate change.
But the strategy led to growing frustration in the international community that the Copenhagen meeting would fail to produce the strong political agreement needed to avoid the worst ravages of climate change. The international community had been looking to Obama – who put climate change at the top of his agenda – to put America in the lead of efforts to deal with global warming. America has produced more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industrialised country.
Sweden’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, had criticised the US failure to commit to targets for cutting emissions as “untenable”.
Obama will still have to tread cautiously in proposing America’s emissions cuts, however. The president promised to cut emissions by 14% over 2005 levels by 2020 when he was running for the White House. The house of representatives narrowly voted on a climate change bill last June, which proposed a 17% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. A similar bill in the Senate proposed a 20% cut.
But efforts to build a consensus around climate change legislation in the Senate have stalled. Senate leaders now say they do not expect to take up climate change law until February next year.