Global warming treaty would be major success


POSTED: Monday, November 30, 2009

Dealing with the threat of a global climate change predicted to have severe consequences for Hawaii has been given a high priority in the Obama administration but faces challenges in Washington and internationally. Any agreement to reduce carbon emissions in upcoming international talks would be a victory in the midst of economic concerns.

President Barack Obama plans to appear Dec. 9 in Copenhagen at the beginning of 12-day United Nations talks on the environment on his way to accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo the next day. He will tell delegates that the United States intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “;in the range of”; 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

Those figures reflect a bill approved by the House but facing opposition in the Senate. Unless global warming is brought under control, a White House report in June warned, Hawaii and other Pacific islands face “;enormous effects”; in the form of heavy rains, hurricane-level winds, higher sea levels, eroding shorelines and the loss of nesting and nursing habitat for endangered or threatened species.

In 1997, the Clinton administration and other industrialized nations at Kyoto pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012, but Congress refused to ratify the agreement because it excused developing nations from the demands. Obama campaigned last year to end the Bush administration's inaction on climate change since then.

Many foreign leaders had hoped Obama would arrive in Copenhagen near the end of the session, when most major decisions are made. His decision to not do so may reflect his limited expectation of agreement from the talks.

The president talked with leaders of China and India, the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases, during his Asian trip this month. China announced last week that it had set a target to slow the growth of greenhouse emissions by 2020; carbon dioxide emissions still would increase but at a reduced rate. India also proposes slowing, but not containing or reversing, the growth of emissions relative to its economy.

Despite the obstacles in trying to keep his campaign promises, congressional approval of gas emissions would be a major achieve-

ment during Obama's presidency. Congress never has enacted an international global warming agreement with binding targets, and it faces business and political pressure against doing anything that might limit economic growth during the recession.

Obama must convince Congress that ignoring global warming on that basis would be reckless, producing irreversible consequences for the environment and the economy for decades.