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US to specify target for emissions cuts, at talks on global warming

A Senate bill's target for emission cuts is akin to level US is likely to offer in Copenhagen. Ahead of the global warming talks, other nations have been waiting to see US target.

By Peter N. SpottsStaff writer / November 23, 2009

In this July 2007 file photo, an iceberg is seen melting off the coast of Ammasalik, Greenland. Many scientists attribute such activity to rising greenhouse-gas emissions. Officials from across the world will convene in Copenhagen next month to seek a follow-up pact.

John McConnico/AP/File

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The US appears ready to offer emissions-reductions targets at global climate talks next month that approximate levels in the energy and climate bill working its way through the US Senate.

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Among other goals, the legislation aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions across the US economy by 3 percent below 2005 levels by 2012, 20 percent by 2020, 42 percent by 2030, and 83 percent by 2050.

"We don't want to get out ahead or be at odds with what can be produced with legislation," said a senior administration official Monday. "So whatever number we put on the table will be with reference to what we think can come out of the legislative process."

These levels fall short of those embraced in the negotiating blueprint that countries drew up at global climate talks in Bali two years ago. That blueprint envisions developed countries cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by a collective 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Developing-country emissions would have to represent a "substantial deviation" from business as usual, rather than hew to specific emissions cuts.

Those figures represent the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's assessment of what needs to be done if world leaders choose to cap global warming at roughly 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

The move represents the Obama administration's effort to try wield the key "to unlocking different aspects of the negotiations," says Sarah Ladislaw, a climate-change specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Among them: aid to developing countries for adaptation and to give them the wherewithal to afford the technologies they will need to meet any commitments.

Developing countries have been insisting that developed countries aim high in terms of cutting emissions – a sore point that led a group of African negotiators to briefly walk out on pre-Copenhagen talks in Barcelona earlier this month.

For months, Ms. Ladislaw says, the rest of the world has been waiting to hear what emissions targets the US is willing to put on the table.

Europe already has indicated it is striving to reduce EU emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 – and it has expressed a willingness to increase those cuts to 30 percent by then if other industrial countries adopt ambitious plans of their own. China has promised very ambitious goals for reducing its economy's energy intensity but as yet has presented no numbers. Russia has said it is willing to aim for 15 to 20 percent reductions over 2005 levels (which are now some 34 percent below 1990 levels, by some accounts). Japan has offered up a 25 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2020. Several other major developing countries also have put forward plans to slow the growth rate in their emissions.