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.