Obama renews campaign climate goals in speech to California climate conference to international approval

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On Tuesday, Obama said in videotaped remarks to a California conference that the United States would “engage vigorously” in climate change talks when he takes office as the new president in January to sharply slash emissions by as early as 2020, despite the financial crisis gripping the nation.

"I think that will have a very positive influence on the negotiations," Yvo de Boer, who heads the UN Climate Secretariat, told Reuters.

"He indicated that he intends to show national and international leadership. I think that that statement will be seen as a huge signal of encouragement to the international community," he said.

Obama’s videotaped message, played to a conference on climate change in Los Angeles, electrified more than 700 delegates from 19 countries gathered to debate strategies for cutting planet-warming pollution.

“Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” Obama said. “Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

Obama has been pressed by industry leaders and members of Congress who have suggested that his climate proposals are too costly to an already flagging economy, and that he should wait until America’s financial system takes an upturn before implementing change.

But Obama rejected this view in his message, saying his plan would create jobs in the renewable energy and conservation sectors, reduce dependence on oil imports, and, above all, play an important part in battling global climate change.

“My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process,” he said.

This would be largely the result of the Obama Administration’s plans to invest $15 billion each year in solar power, wind power and other renewable sources of energy.

Obama pledged "a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change . . . that will start with a federal cap and trade system. We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050."

Several European countries reportedly approached Obama’s transition team to ask that he signal his intentions to diplomats who will gather in Poland next month to craft a successor to the 2005 Kyoto Protocol.

Some environmentalists have called publicly on the president-elect to attend the talks, even though the Bush administration will be in charge of the US delegation. Obama has said he will not attend the negotiations out of deference to the current administration, but he said he asked members of the US Congress who would be present in Poland to report back to him.

Obama also focused part of his message to those who will be present in Poland.

 "Let me also say a special word to the delegates from around the world who will gather at Poland next month: Your work is vital to the planet,” he said. “While I won’t be president at the time of your meeting, and while the United States has only one president at a time, I’ve asked members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hosted the conference, praised Obama’s climate goals. Schwarzenegger backed Republican John McCain in the November 4th election.

"This new administration is very much interested in adopting the same kind of regulations that we have adopted here in California," Schwarzenegger said, according to the Associate Press, noting the state’s landmark 2006 law to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama also told the officials at the California meeting that: “When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.”

The pledges echoed Obama’s campaign positions, but tying them explicitly to the Poland talks "puts wings on the negotiations," said Annie Petsonk, international counsel to the Environmental Defense Fund, a US advocacy group that helps businesses adopt more environmentally sounds practices. "It sends a clear message to the international community that the US will back cap and trade."

Under the carbon trading system adopted under the Kyoto Protocol, nations agree to set a limit on their greenhouse gas emissions, but allow industries to trade pollution allowances among themselves to reduce the cost of meeting the targets.

Obama’s remarks are a striking break from the administration of George  Bush, which did not curb US emissions and declined to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases. China also refused to sign, meaning the world’s two largest emitters are not included in the treaty, which expires in 2012.

UN negotiators have until a December 2009 meeting in Copenhagen to complete the next global warming treaty, but pressure for poor countries, who made no Kyoto commitments, to sign up to cuts is fuelling tensions between rich and poor groupings in the talks.

De Boer said Obama’s commitment would significantly increase chances of a solid new agreement.

"The lesson of Kyoto is that we clearly need to find a way forward that the United States is willing to commit to," de Boer told Reuters.

Schwarzenegger issued a declaration yesterday signed by 12 US governors, as well as provincial leaders from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia and India, to share technology and seek strategies to reduce emissions in high-polluting industries, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Other US-based environmental organizations weighed in positively on Obama’s video presentation.
"As world leaders gather in the coming weeks in Poland to negotiate a pathway out of the climate crisis, the eyes of the world will be upon America and our newfound resolve to rejoin global efforts," National Wildlife Federation president Larry Schweiger said in a statement.

"With today’s call for action on global warming, President-elect Obama has kicked the gears of change into motion."

Charles Digges