U.S. Sees Robust Climate Talks, No "Reparations"
Author: Richard Cowan
Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, listens to a question at a news conference at the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen December 9, 2009
Photo: Bob Strong
COPENHAGEN - President Barack Obama's top aides promised on Wednesday "robust" negotiations toward a global climate change deal this month, but firmly stated the United States does not owe the world "reparations" for centuries of carbon pollution.
They also warned that China, with its booming economy, would not be a recipient of any U.S. aid, even though the Asian heavyweight is considered a developing country under U.N. rules.
But Yu Qingtai, China's climate change ambassador, told reporters that "China has never sought to become the first candidate of financial support," despite its emphasis on the need for developed country financial aid.
That emphasis, he said, was to "safeguard the basic principles" agreed in previous United Nations climate deals.
Three of Obama's Cabinet secretaries and his lead climate negotiator arrived in Copenhagen for the talks that began on Monday and are scheduled to continue through December 18.
"We are seeking robust engagement with all of our partners around the world," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a news conference.
Speaking just days after her agency announced it intends for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, Jackson declared: "We are seeking to prevent the rapid approach of climate change."
Todd Stern, Obama's special envoy for climate change, assured reporters that the United States will contribute to a rich-country fund aimed at helping developing nations deal with climate change problems.
Stern warned, however, that China, with its booming economy and large reserves of U.S. dollars, would not be a recipient of financial aid from Washington.
"I don't envision public funds, certainly not from the United States, going to China," he said, adding that the government would direct public money to the poorest countries.
"We don't think China would be a first candidate."
And he said countries that did get U.S. cash should not see it as a sign that the world's largest economy be blamed for its growth in an era when carbon dioxide was not recognized as a threat to the planet.
"We absolutely recognize our historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere, up there, but the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations, I just categorically reject that," Stern said in response to a reporter's question.
There have been discussions of a $10 billion annual fund for the next few years, which would be a downpayment toward what in the long-run could grow to hundreds of billions of dollars of financial and other support each year.
U.S. Senator John Kerry has asked the Obama administration to contribute $3 billion next year.
The financing plan is a key part of the ongoing talks.
Another high-ranking Obama administration official, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar toured an off-shore Danish wind mill.
Saying climate change solutions were put on a back-burner for the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, Salazar told reporters: "I think the world has hope and optimism that we in the U.S. will be able to get our act together on energy and a climate change bill that will be one for the world."
The economic recession in the United States that has pushed unemployment above 10 percent has dampened enthusiasm for climate change legislation, which could raise consumer prices as industries are gradually forced to switch from fossil fuels like coal and oil to more expensive alternative energy sources.
But Obama administration officials hope that in coming months Congress will be able to finish work on a bill that would be more comprehensive than EPA regulations.
Recently, the recession has cut U.S. gas emissions, putting the country on track to reach Obama's short-term emissions goals, but cutting pollution further will take more effort as the economy recovers.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also is in Copenhagen and will be joined later by other administration officials, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Obama will arrive here toward the end of the talks, when deal-making typically peaks.
Over the past two days, Chinese officials attending the Copenhagen meeting have been highly critical of the U.S. offer to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels. China's top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, told Reuters he hoped Obama can offer a tougher target in Copenhagen. But that could be difficult for the U.S. president because Congress so far has failed to embrace any specific goals.
Stern countered that the "core part of this negotiation is significant action by the major developing countries, there's no question."
While he said China and other major developing countries had taken steps toward controlling carbon emissions, they needed to offer firm, transparent plans in negotiations.
(Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom and Emma Graham-Harrison)