Obama vows climate action despite financial crisis

(Adds comments from Schwarzenegger)

CHICAGO, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Barack Obama said on Tuesday the United States would "engage vigorously" in climate change talks when he is president, and he pledged to work to reduce emissions sharply by 2020, despite the financial crisis.

The Democratic president-elect, who regularly criticized the Bush administration's attitude toward global warming, reiterated his plans to start a "cap and trade" system that limits carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from big industries.

"We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them by an additional 80 percent by 2050," he said in a video address to a global warming summit in California attended by U.S. governors and representatives from other nations.

"My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process," he said.

Obama said he would not attend U.N.-sponsored climate talks in Poland in December as President George W. Bush will still be in office.

But he sent a message to international delegates who have spent years battling Bush representatives over targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt global warming.

"Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change," Obama said.

The president-elect said he asked members of the U.S. Congress who would be present in Poland to report back to him.

European nations have pushed the United States for years to show more leadership on climate change so that China and India, developing nations whose emissions are outpacing the developed world's, will follow suit.


Though Obama's remarks were a reiteration of his campaign promises, the timing signaled his commitment to potentially painful environmental objectives despite a teetering auto industry and a financial crisis.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hosted the conference, praised Obama's climate goals. Schwarzenegger backed Republican John McCain in the Nov. 4 election.

"This new administration is very much interested in adopting the same kind of regulations that we have adopted here in California," Schwarzenegger said, noting the state's landmark 2006 law to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama promised during his White House campaign to create an emissions trading system, similar to the European Union's, which sets limits on the amount of CO2 factories can emit and lets companies trade permits that allow them to pollute more.

That system is known as "cap and trade."

The president-elect said his plans to invest $15 billion every year in solar power, wind power and other renewable fuels would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and improve national security while helping the planet.

"It will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis," he said, citing a frequently mentioned estimate of 5 million jobs that could be created in "green" or environment-related industries.

Environmentalists welcomed his approach and saw significance in the timing of his words.

"As world leaders gather in the coming weeks in Poland to negotiate a pathway out of the climate crisis, the eyes of the world will be upon America and our newfound resolve to rejoin global efforts," National Wildlife Federation president Larry Schweiger said in a statement.

"With today's call for action on global warming, President-elect Obama has kicked the gears of change into motion."

additional reporting by Steve Gorman