Obama Must Pass Climate Laws Ahead of Copenhagen, Danish Minister Warns

Connie Hedegaard Minister for Climate and Energy of Denmark during the opening of World Future Energy Summit 2009 (WFES) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 19 January 2009. (Photograph: Ali Haider/EPA/Corbis)

Obama Must Pass Climate Laws Ahead of Copenhagen, Danish Minister Warns

The US needs to set an example to developing countries if significant progress is to be made at the Copenhagen summit, Denmark's climate minister warns

American leadership on climate change will be undermined if the Obama administration does not swiftly pass laws to reduce carbon pollution, according to Denmark's minister for climate and energy.

Connie Hedegaard said Obama must move from promises to action and push through global warming legislation ahead of the climate change summit in Copenhagen this December. Without that she said it would be hard for the US to exercise a credible leadership role at the summit.

"We can postpone anything but we have been postponing things for many years. We must come from this era where we talk about what to do and instead come to the era where we actually do things. We must come to that now," Hedegaard told the Guardian.

"The deadline set -- 2009 -- is actually set also by the former Bush administration. It is not just Denmark or Europe or somebody who set that deadline. It is set also by the United States. We must deliver on that deadline and I can see no better alternative than having cap and trade."

Hedegaard was the most forceful among a group of visiting foreign dignitaries in Washington this week who have been trying to build momentum ahead of the Copenhagen talks.

Also in Washington were Ed Miliband, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, Jim Prentice, Canada's environment minister, Yvo de Boer, the UN's environment minister and Tony Blair. The EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, is due to visit Washington next week.

Blair said it was important for America to show the developing world it was serious about enacting measures at home on climate change -- but stopped short of saying it needed to introduce a carbon cap and trade regime.

"People have to know that America is committed. Whether it is necessary to have that done legislatively -- I don't know," he said.

Hedegaard, in remarks to Congress on Tuesday, returned to her theme that much preparation remained for the Copenhagen talks to make progress.

"We all have a load of homework before Copenhagen but the world is looking towards the United States to provide leadership," she said.

She said: "We know what we are going to do. We will have to set targets. We will have to come up with financial means. We will have to find ways and means to disseminate technologies faster and to help the least developed countries adapt to the climate change they are already experiencing. Those are the major issues on the table."

The visiting officials broadly see Obama as a positive force for climate change negotiations -- a sea change from George Bush who had refused to ratify the Kyoto agreement, which the Copenhagen meeting will seek to replace.

Obama, who campaigned on a promise to green America's economy, added to those expectations by investing $100bn in environmental measures in his economic recovery plan earlier this month.

But Hedegaard said that move had to be followed up by climate change legislation. That could be difficult for Obama. An attempt last year to put a cap on carbon struggled to get even Democratic support before it was defeated.

Todd Stern, the state department's lead climate negotiator, agreed that the prospects for a successful outcome at Copenhagen would be improved if the US could pass climate legislation in advance.

"The optimum would be legislation that is signed, sealed and delivered," he said. "I think nothing would give a more powerful signal to other countries in the world than to see a significant, major, mandatory American plan."

However, he admitted that may not happen -- although Democrats in Congress say they will take up legislation by the summer.

Some Democrats are pushing for Congress to take up other energy issues, such as mandating greater use of wind and solar power, before dealing with carbon caps.

But Hedegaard said that such actions would not be considered effective substitutes.

"Could we just put some taxes and things? Well then you will not be sure that we actually reduce the level of emissions and that is important if we are going to stick to what science tells us."

The US was also facing pressure to set interim targets -- as a stepping stone towards reducing emissions by 80% in 2050.

But Stern told Congress, that America would not meet the short-term target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40% by 2020.

"I don't think it's necessary, and I do know it's not possible," he said.

The European Union committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 late last year. But it said it would increase the cut if other industrialised states get on board. Obama has committed to reducing emissions by 20% on 2005 levels by 2020.

Hedegaard and others believe that interim targets are essential.

"It's always easy for politicians to set targets that are 41 years away," she said. "We also need ambitious action by the United States in the short- to medium-term."

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