Obama starts climate change forum for big economies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday invited 16 “major economies” including the European Union and the United Nations to take part in a forum on climate change to facilitate a U.N. pact on global warming.

President Barack Obama participates in an "Open for Questions" town hall on the economy in the East Room at the White House in Washington, March 26, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Obama, a Democrat who has taken a more aggressive stance on climate change than his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, invited the group to a preparatory session on April 27 and 28 in Washington.

The White House made clear that Obama’s new initiative would aim to augment U.N. talks that are meant to culminate in an agreement in Copenhagen in December.

“Our goal is to use this forum very much as a key part in how we reach an overall agreement,” a senior administration official told Reuters, adding the review was “an important piece of the puzzle of how we get from here to Copenhagen.”

The “Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate” has echoes of a similar set of meetings organized by the previous administration.

Bush’s “major economies” initiative drew skepticism from participants, who were wary the process was his administration’s way of circumventing broader U.N. talks to forge an international deal.

The U.S. official said countries around the world had expressed interest in restarting the major economies process because of Obama’s differences from Bush on climate change.

The president, who took office in January, has said he wants the United States to take the lead in global warming talks.

The April meeting, to be hosted at the State Department, would likely touch on a range of issues including technology, financing, and emissions trading, the official said.


In a statement, the White House said the forum would “help generate the political leadership necessary” to achieve an international pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions later this year.

It said the meeting would spur dialogue among developed and developing countries about the issue, “and advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”

The major economies include: Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States.

Denmark, which is hosting the U.N. meeting in December to forge a pact that would take over from the Kyoto Protocol, was also invited.

The group’s preparatory sessions are to culminate with a major meeting on the subject in La Maddalena, Italy, in July, hosted by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Group of Eight rich nations also meets at the same location in Italy in July, and the senior official said the climate summit would take place on the margins of the G8.

The U.S. official said he expected other meetings would take place before July, probably outside of the United States.

Obama’s announcement comes shortly before a fresh round of U.N. climate talks on Sunday. Up to 190 nations are to meet in Bonn, Germany, to work on plugging huge gaps in the international pact, which is slated to be agreed to in Denmark in December.

Obama wants to cut U.S. emissions by roughly 15 percent back to 1990 levels by 2020 -- tougher than Bush, who saw U.S. emissions peaking as late as 2025.