President Barack Obama is considering setting a provisional target for cutting America’s huge greenhouse gas emissions, removing the greatest single obstacle to a landmark global agreement to fight climate change.
The Observer has learnt that administration officials have been consulting international negotiators and key players on Capitol Hill about signing up to a provisional target at the UN global warming summit in Copenhagen, now less than three weeks away.
Todd Stern, the state department climate change envoy, said the administration recognised that America had to come forward with a target for cutting its emissions. The US, which with China is responsible for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, is the only major developed nation yet to table an offer.
'What we are looking at is to see whether we could put down essentially a provisional number that would be contingent on our legislation,' Stern said from Copenhagen, where he was meeting Danish officials. 'We are looking at that, there are people we need to consult with.'
A provisional target - if accepted by other nations - would solve Obama’s dilemma. The Senate will not have passed a domestic law before Copenhagen, meaning that, if he makes an offer there, it could subsequently be rejected in Washington. But if he makes no offer, the deal is likely to crash anyway, and with it hopes of rapidly combating global warming.