Obama climate pledges get cautious EU welcome

PRAGUE Sun Apr 5, 2009 12:21pm EDT

President Barack Obama is shown the way to a welcoming ceremony by Czech President Vaclav Klaus at Prague Castle in Prague April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

President Barack Obama is shown the way to a welcoming ceremony by Czech President Vaclav Klaus at Prague Castle in Prague April 5, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The United States is ready to take a leading role in tackling climate change, President Barack Obama said on Sunday, receiving a cautious welcome from European Union hosts at talks in the Czech capital Prague.

Obama made the commitment at an EU-U.S. summit intended to mend transatlantic ties stretched by the Bush administration and Iraq war, which triggered tensions between supporters such as Britain and critics including France and Germany.

The U.S. president stepped up calls for European governments to help him close the Guantanamo Bay prison, and reaffirmed the longstanding U.S. backing for Turkey's EU membership hopes -- in remarks that won a cool response from France and Germany.

But his European hosts were mostly interested in whether Washington would back European efforts to ensure U.N. talks in Copenhagen in December result in a global pact to replace the Kyoto protocol with tough pledges to cut greenhouses gases. "Together, we must confront climate change by ending the world's dependence on fossil fuels, by tapping the power of new sources of energy like the wind and sun, and calling upon all nations to do their part," Obama said.

"I pledge to you that in this global effort, the United States is now ready to lead," he said to cheers from a crowd of tens of thousands outside the medieval Prague Castle.

Obama has taken a more assertive stance on global warming, which scientists say is caused by the release of gases such as carbon dioxide, than his predecessor George W. Bush.

Last month, he invited 16 "major economies" including the European Union to take part in a forum on climate change to help ensure a U.N. pact on global warming is reached at Copenhagen.

"We must not only reach an agreement among ourselves but also present a common approach that will bring other countries into the dialogue," he later told EU leaders at the summit.

"SOMETHING TO BUILD ON"

Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the EU's executive, the European Commission, said the United States and Europe had at least come closer to agreeing on the subject.

"We welcome the steps taken by the new American administration and the increasing convergence between the European and U.S. position on that matter," he told reporters after the summit in Prague, but added there was further to go.

"The statements made by President Obama are much clearer and more ambitious ... Let's build on this," he said.

The 27-nation EU has committed to reducing carbon gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and is ready to go further if developing countries also make ambitious cuts.

Obama's Democrats launched a sweeping effort last week to control greenhouse gas emissions in the latest attempt by Congress to bring the United States into a global effort to tackle climate change. EU officials have welcomed the plan but some say it does not go far enough.

The Prague trip caps Obama's first European visit as president in which he helped secure a G20 deal in London to fight the economic slowdown and appealed for more troops for the Afghan war from allies at a NATO summit in Strasbourg.

Aside from the slightly more positive tone on climate change, the EU-U.S. summit did not appear to yield any immediate result on key transatlantic policy issues.

There was a muted response from EU officials to Obama's call to help him fulfill a pledge to close the Guantanamo prison by taking in some of its remaining 245 detainees -- something for which there is little enthusiasm in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU countries were ready to help but insisted Germany had not received a concrete request.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Kerstin Gehmlich and Michael Winfrey)

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