U.S. submits emissions-reduction target to U.N., with caveat

The United States will promise the international community that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions about 17 percent below 2005 levels in the coming decade, State Department climate envoy Todd Stern has announced.

The target will be submitted to the U.N. climate regime as part of a Jan. 31 deadline President Obama helped negotiate in Copenhagen last year. The announcement comes just a day after Obama publicly pushed Congress to complete global warming legislation -- and includes the caveat that the final U.S. target will be delivered "in light of enacted legislation."

"The U.S. submission reflects President Obama's continued commitment to meeting the climate change and clean energy challenge through robust domestic and international action that will strengthen our economy, enhance our national security and protect our environment," Stern said in a statement.

In a letter to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Stern also noted that the U.S. target is contingent upon other developed and major developing countries -- like China and India -- having also entered pledges by Jan. 31.

"We expect that all major economies will honor their agreement in Copenhagen to submit their mitigation targets or actions," Stern said.


Other nations, meanwhile, are asking whether the United States can honor its own promise. Obama needs domestic legislation cutting emissions and creating a cap-and-trade system to live up to the U.N. pledge -- and despite hard words in his State of the Union address yesterday, it is not clear whether the president will be able to deliver.

The House in June passed legislation that would cut global warming pollution 17 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, but the measure is stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Rob Bradley, who directs an international climate policy initiative at the World Resources Institute, said submitting a pledge to the United Nations puts renewed pressure on Obama.

"The fact that Obama said himself, 'Yes, we'll go ahead and write this down' ... he has a huge interest in making sure that a bill happens," Bradley said.

The Copenhagen Accord is a three-page agreement that the leaders of 28 countries developed in December. Under it, both industrialized countries like the United States, Europe and Japan and major developing countries like China and India -- as well as other developing countries with significant resources like Singapore -- agreed to pledge emission-reduction targets. They also promised to allow international review of those targets. Meanwhile, wealthy countries would deliver $30 billion over three years by 2012 to help poor nations address the problems brought about by climate change and would mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020.

The agreement is not legally binding, which means countries suffer no penalties if they fail to do what they promise.

So far, according to a running tab the Climate Action Network has started, 23 countries have either submitted or pledged to submit targets.

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