Analysis: Obama Made Climate Progress with Secret Talks in Asia
In his recent meetings with Chinese and Indian officials, President Obama may have given climate change and the environment much more emphasis than the press was aware of. According to Richard Wolffe’s Thursday blog on the Daily Beast, “several weeks of intensive behind-the-scenes diplomacy” explain the recent commitments made by President Obama and Chinese officials to limit or reduce carbon emissions.
On Wednesday the New York Times reported that the White House had established a negotiating position that it will carry to December’s climate summit in Copenhagen. The administration has reportedly established “a provisional greenhouse gas emissions target for 2020 in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels.”
According to Wolffe, it is no coincidence that China announced its own carbon limitation target only one day after the White House. Using a different measuring standard, China announced on November 26 that it is committed to cut carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product, by 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. (It should be noted that some energy experts are critical of this pledge, since this level of carbon intensity could potentially result in very little change).
Obama’s attempt to set actual carbon reduction targets comes as a surprise to many. Until recently President Obama was on the fence as to whether he would even attend the summit in Copenhagen. In early November, Obama stated that he would only attend if his presence would help attendees reach an agreement on climate change. Proponents of carbon reduction were further disappointed a few days later when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that no firm agreements were expected to be made in Copenhagen when she described the climate talks as a “steppingstone” toward a global climate agreement. China’s actions also encouraged low expectations for the summit by stating that responsibility for climate change primarily rests with the United States and other developed countries.
If Wolffe is correct, it may be that the Obama administration’s cautious language was the result of a hesitancy to make any commitments without the support of the world’s top carbon polluter—China. Apparently the president’s meetings with Chinese officials in mid-November and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 24 went well. Wolffe quotes an unnamed senior White House aide saying that Obama “had extensive conversations with President Hu specifically on climate and conversations with the prime minister of India” in hopes of “building momentum for a political agreement to be brokered at Copenhagen.”
Although Obama will not stay for the conclusion of the meeting, the White House hopes these commitments, which Wolffe contends are the result of secret diplomatic meetings, will have a significant impact. According to a senior aide, Obama “feels he can be a catalyst for getting a political agreement in place.”