The United Nations' climate chief has welcomed a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to meet with other world leaders at the Copenhagen summit, saying it bodes well for a robust agreement at the two-week meeting that begins tomorrow.
"I'm happy he is coming toward the end of the conference," Yvo de Boer, head of UN Climate Change Secretariat, told a news conference in the Danish capital.
"I hope that, as part of the negotiating process, he comes with ambitious American targets and strong financial support to reach out to developing countries."
The White House announced this weekend that Mr. Obama would travel to Copenhagen for a Dec. 18 meeting of some 100 world leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Mr. Obama had planned to visit the summit this week while on his way to accept a Nobel Prize in Oslo.
Mr. de Boer said countries must be prepared to go further than the commitments that are currently on the table. He noted the UN's scientific panel has said industrialized countries must reduce greenhouse emissions by between 25 per cent and 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.
"We are close to that range but we are not in that range, and part of the purpose of Copenhagen is to make sure industrialized countries do get into that range, and that will be the result of a process of negotiation," Mr. de Boer said.
Mr. Obama has indicated the U.S. will commit to reduce emissions by at least 17 per cent below 2005 levels, which equivalent to 4 to 5 per cent below 1990 levels. A climate change bill that passed the House of Representatives includes that 17 per cent target, while legislation now before the Senate would reduce emission by 20 per cent below 2006 levels.
However, it remains uncertain whether the Senate will actually pass the legislation early next year, as proponents hope, or what the actually targets will be.
Mr. de Boer said the House bill contains measures that would achieve even greater emission reductions than targeted.
The White House also indicated U.S. support for a $10-billion (U.S.) per year fund provided by developed countries to the developing world to finance emission reductions and efforts to adapt to looming climate change.
The Canadian government has committed to cutting emissions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020 - which equates to a 3 per cent reduction from 1990 levels. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Ottawa will not agree to significantly tougher targets, despite urgings from the international community, federal opposition parties and several provincial premiers.
Environment Minister Jim Prentice said that Canada won't be stampeded by the "hype and drama" surrounding Copenhagen to make a deal that would damage the Canadian economy.
"If we do more than the U.S., we will suffer economic pain for no real environmental gain -- economic pain that could impede our ability to invest in new, clean technologies and other innovative solutions to climate change," Mr. Prentice said in a Montreal speech Friday. "But if we do less, we will risk facing new border barriers into the American market."
NDP leader Jack Layton said he does not expect Canada's climate change negotiators to be anything but a drag on the talks. "They will leave their foot on the brake as long as they can," he said in an interview. "They will wait to see what Obama will do. They will protect the oil sands as long as possible."
Mr. Layton said he is going to Copenhagen in to inform the delegates from the 192 countries attending the summit that "majority of the members of the House of Commons have a different view" than the ruling Conservatives on the dangers of climate change and the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Canada has been called "the dirty old man" of the industrialized countries because its greenhouse gas emissions have soared since it agreed to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and because of the rapid expansion of the Alberta oil sands.
The Copenhagen talks are being held to design a successor to Kyoto, though developing countries insist countries like Canada should be held to commitments made under that agreement.
Mr. Layton said he expects Canada and other energy-exporting countries to be influenced by oil industry lobbyists in Copenhagen. "The oil industry will have a virtual oil petroleum war room," he said. "This group is not only economically powerful, they're politically powerful too."