U.S. takes center stage in Copenhagen

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Europe Correspondent  |  Dec. 16, 2009 at 7:52 AM
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COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Senior U.S. officials have taken center stage at the Copenhagen climate summit in a bid to convince the world that America is serious about climate protection.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Vice President Al Gore addressed the U.N. climate conference Tuesday and Wednesday, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underlining her government's commitments to climate protection from home.

Schwarzenegger told a packed conference room in the Bella Center there was no need to wait for a deal to be sealed at Copenhagen when one can instead make vigorous green efforts at the local, state and regional level.

"The world's national governments cannot make the progress that is needed on global climate change alone," he said Tuesday. "California has shown that a sub-national government can lead the way to national change."

The world's seventh-largest economy, California has implemented solar power subsidy schemes, car emissions standards and committed itself to ambitious binding greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

However, it had long been a lone fighter for climate protection in the United States.

Asked Tuesday why there had been so little progress in the U.N. process over the past years, Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister in charge of the negotiations here, replied that one major hurdle was the U.S. position under former President George W. Bush.

"Things simply could not move unless there was progress on the American side," she said.

This has changed.

California's green initiatives have long been copied by other states and by the authors of a major climate protection bill currently in Congress. However, the bill did not pass ahead of Copenhagen, as U.S. lawmakers are wary of spending billions on emissions reductions in a recession and because they have other things to deal with -- not least the healthcare reform.

"Some of my colleagues in Washington remain -- some leaders elsewhere -- reluctant to grapple with a climate crisis mostly measured in future dangers and parts per million, when they're confronted every day with the present pain of hard-working people in a tough economic time," Kerry said Wednesday in prepared remarks. "To pass a bill, we must be able to assure a senator from Ohio that steelworkers in his state won't lose their jobs to India and China because those countries are not participating in a way that is measurable, reportable and verifiable."

Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change, at a speech in Copenhagen Tuesday urged U.S. lawmakers to pass the bill by April 22, 2010 -- the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Gore has been a star at past summits but his image was tarnished when it surfaced that he overstretched some green numbers, just days after it surfaced that climate scientists may have hidden data pointing to global cooling.

Obama, the new climate star -- apart from Schwarzenegger, who mesmerized crowds at the conference -- is to arrive in Copenhagen early Friday to address the summit and, together with more than 130 other world leaders, try and hammer out a binding climate protection deal. He has offered a 17 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels.

To herald his arrival, Obama dispatched a flock of top-level officials to the summit: Interior Minister Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson spoke during the first week of the summit.

Officials are also active at home: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also to attend the final days of the conference, wrote an editorial in Tuesday's New York Times that Washington under Obama's leadership was "taking responsibility and taking action."

"We have come to Copenhagen ready to take the steps necessary to achieve a comprehensive and operational new agreement that will provide a foundation for long-term, sustainable economic growth," she wrote. That should include "decisive national action, an operational accord that internationalizes those commitments, assistance for nations that are the most vulnerable and least prepared to meet the effects of climate change, and standards of transparency that provide credibility to the entire process."

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