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The U.S. will meet the climate challenge - in Copenhagen and beyond

Dec 10, 2009, 11:45 AM | Article By: (Guest Editorial by Ambassador Wells)

The United States is committed to achieving the strongest possible outcome at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. To demonstrate both this commitment and our interest in seeing the global community meet this goal, President Obama will travel to Copenhagen to participate in the conference. Copenhagen represents an important opportunity to work toward a global solution to climate change - more than 90 heads of state are expected to make an appearance at the conference. The world is watching.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our planet, and its impacts are already apparent.  Sea levels are rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, storms are becoming more frequent and intense, glaciers and Arctic ice are disappearing, and water supplies are increasingly at risk.  These changes threaten not only the environment, but also security and stability. 

Climate change is a global challenge that demands a global solution.  To this end, the United States has joined others in seeking an international agreement through the UN negotiating process. We support a legally binding agreement, but world leaders have acknowledged that reaching one in the short time frame of Copenhagen is unlikely.

With this in mind, it is crucial that all countries, led by major economies, do what it takes to produce a strong, operational accord that will get us started right away and help build the institutions needed to combat climate change.  Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen first put the idea on the table for such an agreement that all world leaders could stand behind.  It would serve as a strong and concise commitment that covers all of the major issues in the negotiations: mitigation, adaptation, financing and technology support; and transparency and accountability. 

President Obama will lead the United States in doing its part. We are doing more to meet this challenge than ever before, both by supporting domestic policies that advance clean energy, climate security, and economic recovery and by vigorously international engagement. The U.S. is prepared to put on the table an emissions reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, ultimately in line with domestic legislation. This target puts us on a pathway toward a 30 percent emissions reduction in 2025 and a 42 percent reduction in 2030, in line with the President's goal to reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050. 

But the United States cannot solve the problem alone.  Success will require action by all.  To this end, all major economies will have to present mitigation plans in any new Copenhagen agreement and make clear that they intend to stand behind those plans. We are seeing encouraging signs in this regard. 

Transparency is also fundamental in any agreement - it gives countries confidence that others are carrying out their commitments and allows the world to determine whether we are adequately reducing emissions.  All major economies need to agree to a robust transparency regime in Copenhagen.

Ultimately, an international agreement will only succeed if it both complements and promotes sustainable development by moving the world toward a low-carbon economy. It must provide financial and technological support for countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.  Finding a solution to climate change can benefit all countries - driving investment and job creation around the world, while bringing energy services to hundreds of millions of the world's poor.

Copenhagen is not the end of the process.  It is part of our larger collective commitment to meeting one of the world's greatest challenges. Copenhagen represents an opportunity to reach an accord that could start us down the path toward a legal agreement right away and speed the transition to a low-carbon global economy. It is important that we seize it. The United States stands ready to do our part, and we look to The Gambia to do yours. 

"We are living beyond our means. As a people we have developed a life-style that is draining the earth of its priceless and irreplaceable resources without regard for the future of our children and people all around the world".

Margaret MEAD