Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on leaders of the world's largest economies today to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and pledged that the United States will "lead the way."
In opening remarks to the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, Clinton called climate change a "clear and present danger to our world" and told environment ministers from the world's 17 largest economies that the Obama administration is "fully engaged in negotiations toward a global emissions treaty."
"I assure you that the United States will work tirelessly toward a successful outcome of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations," Clinton said.
Seated around a table in the State Department's Loy Henderson Auditorium were ministers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Officials from Denmark, which is hosting the U.N. climate conference in December, also are attending, as is U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer.
As the world's biggest economies -- and the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters -- they and the United States have a "special responsibility" to address climate change, Clinton said. And, she said, that includes fast-growing countries like China and India, which so far have resisted calls to slash greenhouse gas output.
Together the gathered countries create more than 80 percent of the world's emissions. China and the United States alone are responsible for 41 percent of global greenhouse gas pollution, and last year China surpassed the United States as the world's largest contributor to global warming.
Clinton assured China and other emerging nations that the United States "wants you to grow" and is intent on finding solutions that will allow countries to combat climate change without stunting development.
"Of course, each economy here is different. Some, like mine, are responsible for past emissions; others for fast-growing current emissions," she said. "We may be at different stages of development ... but we all have to do our part."
Todd Stern, the Obama administration's climate envoy, will be leading the two days of discussions. The talks are expected to cover a range of issues, including how far nations will be willing to go in reducing emissions, and some bilaterial partnerships that could be established to spur low-carbon technology development.
President George W. Bush originally spearheaded the gatherings, calling them the Major Economies Meetings -- though many referred to them as the "major emitters meetings." Through the Bush years, though, many critics accused the administration of using the forum to undermine global U.N. talks toward a treaty.
Clinton today said the Obama administration wants the meetings to help smooth discussions in treaty talks, which are expected to come to a head in December at a major summit in Copenhagen.
Kevin Curtis, deputy director of the Pew Environment Group, issued a statement hailing the talks as a "much needed momentum boost" to climate change talks and called on the United States to propose significant financial support to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change and adapt to a low-carbon future.
"By working with China and India toward common goals on climate change, President Obama is sending a clear signal to Congress that his administration is committed to addressing global warming and he is asking other countries to join him," Curtis said.