WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite a host of other urgent problems to tackle, President Barack Obama still inspires confidence from environmental and corporate leaders that he is committed to the fight against climate change.
“He has many mountains to climb, but I think he’s demonstrated great leadership and great ability in dealing with multiple issues,” Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit this week.
Even as Obama and the U.S. Congress tackle legislation on healthcare reform and economic recovery, de Boer and other environmental observers said this administration is keeping its focus on climate change in advance of international meetings in Copenhagen in December.
There is less confidence that the United States will be able to cobble together a global deal at this meeting.
Joan Ruddock, Britain’s deputy energy and climate minister, acknowledged the Obama team’s problems getting global warming legislation through the U.S. Senate and noted that a U.S. climate law may not be ready by the Copenhagen meeting.
“The world community will have to make a judgment about what promises they’re able to make without a legislative base, and how acceptable that is,” Ruddock said in a Reuters summit interview. “We don’t doubt their good intentions and we are encouraging them all the time to look to see what they can bring forward and make it as ambitious as possible.”
De Boer said Obama needs an “international advance” in Copenhagen so he can tell U.S. voters, “We’ve crafted something in Copenhagen that lives up to the challenge and we are all pulling our weight.”
Formal legislation may not be needed to show U.S. resolve at December’s global meeting, according to Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director.
“What we ought to get out of Copenhagen is a commitment to identifying all the things we can do together to get on a different pathway, and that, I think, is doable,” Pope said. “I am not certain that whether the U.S. Congress has passed legislation is critical to that, because that is not about bipartisan timetables, that is about investments and incentives.”
Jeff Kenna, CEO of carbon offset aggregator Camco International CAMIN.L, said it was unlikely that climate legislation with a cap-and-trade system would get through the Senate this year.
“I hope it goes through next year but think it will be 2012-2013 before cap-and-trade is introduced,” Kenna said. “We’d see the U.S. becoming the biggest market (for carbon offsets).”
Lex de Jonge, chair of a U.N. panel that makes awards for clean energy projects under a process known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), said he was “very happy with developments under Obama ... There are still some forces who are critical toward the CDM, but it is based on arguments no longer valid.”
Some in the environmental community are frustrated at how slowly climate legislation is moving in Congress, said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“There’s frustration at the pace,” Meyer said. “I think most of that is aimed at Congress and at the swing members of Congress and at the interest groups that are intentionally trying to polarize the debate in Congress.”
However, he said, “I don’t get any sense ... in the environmental community that they feel like the White House has abandoned the issue and are walking away from it.”
Recent polling indicates most Americans approve of Obama’s handling of energy policy, and a majority — 52 percent — support a cap-and-trade plan to limit climate-warming carbon emissions, according to an August Washington Post-ABC News poll. An August Zogby poll showed 71 percent of voters surveyed are in favor of climate legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Additional reporting by Nina Chestney, Gerard Wynn and Michael Szabo in London; Mary Milliken in San Francisco; Alister Doyle in Oslo; editing by Jim Marshall