Obama Climate Plan Praised as 'Catalytic Event'

June 5, 2014 07:00 AM
Obama Climate Plan Praised as 'Catalytic Event'

U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to cut power plant emissions by 30 percent can spur other major emitters to step up greenhouse gas cuts, envoys from developing countries said at United Nations climate talks.

"We’re looking at this as a catalytic event," Seyni Nafo, a delegate from Mali, said in an interview in Bonn, where 12 days of UN climate discussions began yesterday. "This is the type of thing you need. It’s going to put some pressure on Canada, some pressure on Japan."

Developing countries have been calling for years for the U.S. to step up action against climate change. That’s because the U.S. is the biggest cumulative polluter since industrialization began, and it never ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only treaty limiting emissions in richer nations.

Obama failed in 2010 to get an emissions-limiting law through Congress. That has forced him to use his executive authority through the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the gases that are blamed for pushing up global temperatures. The EPA this week proposed cutting power plant emissions in 2030 by 30 percent from 2005 levels. Electricity generation accounts for almost a third of U.S. emissions.

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"We see this as the beginning of great cooperation between the United States and the rest of the world on this issue," Tony de Brum, a minister from the Marshall Islands, said in an interview in Bonn. "We’re now on the same wavelength."

The U.S. already cut emissions from power plants by about 15 percent since 2005, said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"About half of the level of effort has been done in 8 years without the rule in place," Meyer said in an interview. "Clearly we need to get the 2030 numbers up."

U.S. Pledge

The Bonn negotiations are part of a UN effort to write a new global agreement to fight climate change at a meeting at the end of next year in Paris. Delegates to the talks have set themselves a goal of limiting warming since the industrial revolution to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The UN projects as much as 4.8 degrees of warming by 2100 on current trends.

"It’s a start," Roland Bhola, a minister from Grenada, said in an interview. "But we’d rather like to see some concrete initiatives."

The U.S. has pledged to cut emissions by 17 percent from 2005 to 2020. The EPA said in April that total emissions in 2012 were already 10 percent below 2005 levels.

Even so, the Climate Action Tracker, a project by three research groups, yesterday estimated that emissions are likely to be at about the same level in 2030, even after the new power plant rules take affect. That’s because of growing emissions in other parts of the economy.


"Being a small country so vulnerable to all these issues related to climate change, we would want bolder statements and commitments from all those who can do it," Abdullahi Majeed, who is environment minister for the Maldives, said in an interview. He said he "welcomed" the EPA announcement.

Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman, said in an e-mail that other steps the administration is taking mean the U.S. "is charting a course to long-term, low-carbon growth."

Nafo from Mali said the momentum generated by the U.S. announcement was shown the following day when a Chinese government adviser indicated the country may cap its emissions. He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, told a conference in Beijing that China will set a total emissions cap when its next five-year plan enters force in 2016, Reuters reported. China is the world’s biggest emitter.

"It seems China wants to send a signal without officially announcing it," said Martin Kaiser, international climate policy analyst at the environmental group Greenpeace.

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