The United States Thursday officially told the United Nations it will cut carbon emissions, predicting Congress would move ahead on fighting climate change but pressing other countries to do likewise.
President Barack Obama’s administration outlined US climate goals in a submission to the United Nations, which was requested of all nations by January 31 as part of the Copenhagen summit held last month.
The United States, long the industrial world’s main holdout from climate change agreements, said it would cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming “in the range of 17 percent” by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.
“The US submission reflects President Obama’s continued commitment to meeting the climate change and clean energy challenge,” US climate envoy Todd Stern said in a letter to Yvo de Boer, head of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Stern said that robust action “will strengthen our economy, enhance our national security and protect our environment.”
However, Stern said that the US pledges were made “on the assumption” that major developed and developing nations would make similar submissions.
“We expect that all major economies will honor their agreement in Copenhagen to submit their mitigation targets or actions,” he said.
The summit had asked nations to report by January 31 whether they would associate themselves with the accord and join efforts to draft a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whose legal obligations run out at the end of 2012.
The United States appears to be one of the first to formally submit its papers. The UNFCCC has indicated that it did not consider January 31 a strict deadline amid rancor around the world over how to battle rising temperatures.
The submission came hours after Obama made his first State of the Union address, where he urged a joint session of Congress to move ahead on climate legislation.
But Obama’s Democratic Party last week suffered a stinging upset in which a Republican who opposes restrictions on carbon emissions won the seat held for decades by late liberal icon Ted Kennedy.
The Senate has yet to vote on climate legislation, which squeaked through the House of Representatives in June.
In the State of the Union address, Obama did not specifically ask the Senate to approve the House vision of a “cap-and-trade” system — in which companies must curb emissions and have an economic incentive by trading credits.
Instead, Obama focused on building a green economy and supported nuclear power and offshore drilling for oil and gas — measures opposed by many environmentalists but offered as a compromise to woo Republicans.
The two-week Copenhagen summit was marred by discord between wealthy nations and several developing countries, which have pressed for more action from nations historically responsible for climate change.
Only a handful of nations have submitted their papers to the UNFCCC including Bangladesh, the Marshall Islands, the Philippines and Samoa, according to a running list by the US Climate Action Network, which supports action against global warming.
However, other key players have indicated that they are in the process of submitting the papers.
The United States is the only major industrialized nation to shun the Kyoto Protocol. Former president George W. Bush argued that it was too costly and unfair by making no demands of fast-growing emerging economies such as China and India.