December 11, 2008 / 10:27 PM / 11 years ago

Obama can sign U.N. climate pact before U.S. law: Kerry

POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate will let President-elect Barack Obama sign up to a U.N. pact to fight global warming in late 2009 even if U.S. climate laws are not yet in place, U.S. Senator John Kerry predicted on Thursday.

But Kerry, designated head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Poland that China, India and Russia would also have to promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions to win Senate blessing of any pact.

“It will be like the difference between night and day,” Kerry, of Massachusetts, said of Obama’s enthusiasm for action against climate change after what he said were eight years of inaction under President George W. Bush.

He told Reuters support in the United States for climate action was strong enough to let Obama sign up for emissions cuts under a U.N. pact to be agreed in Copenhagen in late 2009 even if the Senate had not by then agreed matching U.S. climate laws.

“We can have commenced the (domestic) legislative process, we don’t have to have completed it,” before agreeing to cuts under a U.N. treaty, he said.

President Bill Clinton agreed in 1997 to the U.N.’s existing Kyoto Protocol for cutting greenhouse gases until 2012 but never tried to get the pact ratified by a hostile Senate.

Kerry, a Democrat beaten by Bush in the 2004 presidential election, will report back to Obama from Poznan.

By the time of the Copenhagen meeting, domestic legislation might have passed “a couple of committees” but might not have reached the full Senate “because of the economic situation and the budget issues and other things,” Kerry said.


Obama has said he plans to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, now about 17 percent above 1990 levels, back to 1990 levels by 2020 and then by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

“Some of us believe he should go further than that” by 2020, Kerry said. “My hope is that ... we may even be able to do better.”

Bush rejected Kyoto, which sets 2012 targets for 37 developed nations to cut emissions, saying it was too costly and should have also set targets for developing nations.

Kerry said that all major emitters would have to accept goals for cuts under a new treaty.

“What’s important is that we go to Copenhagen understanding that no treaty is going to pass the U.S. Senate unless it is a global solution. China, India, Russia — all countries have to be part of the solution,” he said.

“China is now the largest emitter in the world,” he said. “China has to reduce, in concrete fixed levels from its current levels. So do we. So does the EU (European Union), so does the rest of the world.” Targets could vary by country.

China says that rich nations must cut most because they pump out most greenhouse gases per person, mainly from burning fossil fuels. In three months, the average American produces more greenhouse gases than the average Chinese does in a year.

Kerry said the Senate would work early in 2009 on a renewable energy bill and on measures to stimulate the economy — including creating green jobs — before turning to climate legislation.

Obama plans to set up a trading system to help cut carbon dioxide emissions. Asked if the United States would eventually get a cap and trade system, Kerry said: “Personally I’d like to see it but you don’t have to have it.”

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

Additional reporting by Gerard Wynn; editing by Andrew Roche

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