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Obama to join climate summit on its final day

The president pushes back his trip to the Copenhagen climate-change conference to take a more active role in brokering an agreement.

December 05, 2009|By Jim Tankersley
  • 1Sky campaign director Gillian Caldwell at a rally in front of the White House calls on the Obama administration to increase its efforts to curb climate change during the Copenhagen climate talks.
1Sky campaign director Gillian Caldwell at a rally in front of the White… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Reporting from Washington — Increasingly optimistic that decisions by China and India will yield a breakthrough in international climate negotiations, President Obama announced Friday that he would take a more active and dramatically timed role at this month's climate summit in Copenhagen.

Obama will push back his visit to the conference to its final scheduled day, putting him in a better position to help broker an agreement, the White House announced.

The White House also said the United States would pay "its fair share" of a $10-billion-a-year, short-term financing package from wealthy nations to help developing nations adapt to rising temperatures and make the transition to low-emission energy sources. It's unclear what that share would be, but Obama included more than $1 billion for such efforts in his proposed 2010 budget.

The moves come in response to recent pledges by China and India to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, White House officials said, and after Obama's consultations this week with the leaders of France, Germany, Britain and Australia.

By postponing his visit from Wednesday to Dec. 18, Obama appears to be betting that his presence can push negotiations "over the top" toward an agreement, a hope he has expressed several times. It will put Obama at the conference when dozens of other world leaders are there, and it immediately raises expectations for some type of climate agreement to result from the talks.

"Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the president believes that continued U.S. leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on Dec. 18 rather than on Dec. 9," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

"There are still outstanding issues that must be negotiated for an agreement to be reached, but this decision reflects the president's commitment to doing all that he can to pursue a positive outcome," the statement said.

The move means the president will make two separate flights to Scandinavia this month, one to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo and another to the Copenhagen conference. Originally, he had planned to combine the trips.

Environmentalists welcomed the announcement.

"It's a very positive sign," said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It clearly shows that he's really committed to this issue, because he's going to go when other heads of state are there and try to make this happen."

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a phone interview from Copenhagen that delegates beginning to gather for the opening of the conference Monday "were not looking too fondly on the Dec. 9 appearance -- they thought it was a photo opportunity and not really coming to negotiate."

Meyer said he was "pretty amazed" by the switch to a Dec. 18 appearance.

The summit opens Monday.

jtankersley@latimes.com

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