Video: E-mails cause heated debate

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    >>> central time .

    >>> there was a surprising announcement just a short time ago from the white house . president obama has changed his plans. now says he won't attend the beginning of that u.n. conference on climate change next week in copenhagen. instead, he'll attend at the end of the conference, when leaders from china and india will be there. and as the world prepares to tackle this issue, there's a new scandal that's burning up the net these days that began with e-mails that were stolen, and the scandal has to do with climate change . our chief environmental affairs correspondent anne thompson has our report.

    >> reporter: the hottest debate in the blogosphere is about changes in the earth's atmosphere and what stolen e-mails reveal about some data supporting global warming . those who doubt that manmade greenhouse gases are changing the climate say these e-mails from britain's university of east anglia show climate scientists massaging data and suppressing studies by those who disagree. that's led to angry headlines on both sides of the atlantic and angry politicians.

    >> it's junk science , and it is a part of a massive international scientific fraud .

    >> reporter: the uproar is having an impact. the united nations today said it would investigate the e-mails but did not back away from the science that led it to determine man is responsible for global warming . still, critics say the e-mails show catastrophic predictions of countries and people devastated by warming need to be reconsidered.

    >> there are clear problems with these records that deserve investigati investigation, and not providing them to people because they're "going to find something wrong with it" is just not the way we're supposed to do science.

    >> reporter: today in a letter to congress 25 leading u.s. scientists accuse climate change opponents of misrepresenting the e-mails' significance.

    >> i think the e-mail scandal is being used as a political sideshow to deflect interest in actually dealing with climate change . i think in that regard it will fail.

    >> reporter: even more than in copenhagen some think the e-mails will have the greatest impact in washington, giving politicians from coal and oil-producing states another reason to delay taking action to reduce emissions. the government's leading scientists told congress there is no time to lose.

    >> i emphasize that climate change is not a theory. it is a documented set of observations about the world.

    >> reporter: an ever-changing world still debating how much it is changing. anne thompson , nbc news, new york.

    >>> and there's weather in the

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/4/2009 5:21:42 PM ET 2009-12-04T22:21:42

President Barack Obama on Friday abruptly altered the timing of his appearance at an international climate summit in Copenhagen, hoping to capitalize on steps by India and China and an emerging plan to help developing countries mitigate impacts with $10 billion a year.

The move means Obama will be at the summit on Dec. 18, considered a crucial period when more leaders will be in attendance, as opposed to his original plan to be in Denmark next Wednesday on his way to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize.

It also means that Obama will be squeezing in a separate, 10th foreign trip before Christmas — a record pace of travel for a first-year president — as a means to giving momentum to a deal aimed at curbing global warming.

"After months of diplomatic activity, there is progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord in which all countries pledge to take action against the global threat of climate change," the White House said in a statement announcing the change.

"China and India have for the first time set targets to reduce their carbon intensity," it added.

Moreover, it said, "there appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012 to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries."

"The United States will pay its fair share of that amount and other countries will make substantial commitments as well," the White House said. "Providing this assistance is not only a humanitarian imperative — it's an investment in our common security, as no climate change accord can succeed if it does not help all countries reduce their emissions."

What the United States will not be delivering is legislation that requires emissions curbs across the country. That has been stalled in Congress.

The Copenhagen talks were initially expected to deliver a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, but the U.S. delay and other international setbacks have made that unrealistic. A new treaty is now expected to be worked on next year.

India, China talk of 'carbon intensity'
The development came one day after India said it would cut the ratio of greenhouse gas pollution to production by 20 to 25 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, but would not agree to hard limit on the amount of heat-trapping gases it could release. India's pledge, like the one made earlier by China, is a cut in carbon intensity.

That means emissions can keep rising as their developing economies grow, but they would do so more slowly. China pledged weeks ago to commit to a 40 to 45 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2005 levels over the next decade. That means its emissions would grow at half the rate they would otherwise.

By contrast, the U.S. will propose a cut in emissions over the same time period in the range of 17 percent, regardless of the growth of its economy. For the U.S. to achieve the target it proposes, however, Congress will have to pass legislation to curb greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The House passed a bill to that effect, but the Senate has said it will not take up the measure until next year.

And even if it does, a 17 percent reduction by 2020 is lower than what scientists say is needed to avert the dangerous consequences of climate change.

Some scientists say industrial countries must slash carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent the Earth from disastrous warming. Obama's proposal — which matches a bill that passed the House in June — translates to a 4 to 5 percent reduction from 1990 levels.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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