Obama: Copenhagen paves way for action on climate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday defended an international climate accord reached in Copenhagen as an “important breakthrough” but stressed that it was only a step toward curbing global carbon emissions.

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement on health care and climate change at the White House in Washington December 19, 2009. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

“For the first time in history, all of the world’s major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action on the threat of climate change,” Obama said in a statement after returning from the Danish capital overnight.

United Nations climate talks ended with a bare-minimum agreement that fell well short of the conference’s original goals after prolonged negotiations failed to paper over differences between rich nations and the developing world.

Obama, who brokered an accord at the last moment with China, India, Brazil and South Africa to avoid coming home empty handed, acknowledged that talks had been tough.

“After extremely difficult and complex negotiations, this important breakthrough laid the foundation for international action in the years to come,” he said, speaking from a snow-bound White House as a winter storm blanketed Washington.

“Going forward, we are going to have to build on momentum that we established in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time,” Obama said.

Critics complain the explicit deal struck in Copenhagen to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius provided no details of how this goal would be reached, and that the emission cuts that were promised would be insufficient to get there.

Obama has staked significant political capital in pressing for climate change in Copenhagen while simultaneously pushing for healthcare reform back home, and he must contend with an increasingly climate-skeptical American public.

A Washington Post-ABC News opinion poll published on Friday found 45 percent of those surveyed approved of his handling of global warming, down from 54 percent in June and 61 percent in April.

Obama’s broader approval ratings have also dipped as Americans contend with double-digit unemployment as the economy recovers from its worst recession in 70 years, and he sought on Saturday to link job creation with his climate policies.

“At home, that means continuing our efforts to build a clean energy economy that has the potential to create millions of new jobs and new industries,” he said. “If America leads in developing clean energy, we will lead in growing our economy and putting our people back to work.”

Editing by Anthony Boadle