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U.S. outlines dual path to cutting greenhouse gas

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson addresses the audience at the U.S. Center during the third day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 on December 9, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Politicians and environmentalists meet for the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 that runs until December 18.

Miguel Villagran/2009 Getty Images

The Obama administration powered up its charm offensive at the Copenhagen summit yesterday with the announcement that the United States, the world's second-biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, will launch a dual offensive on the climate-change front.

Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told a summit audience that the United States will employ regulations under the Clean Air Act of 1970, as well as federal legislation, to control and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Before she made her comments, there had been doubt as to whether Washington would unleash both regulation and legislation in an effort to shrink the American carbon footprint. "This is not an either-or moment," Ms. Jackson told reporters and summit delegates in announcing the two-pronged approach. "This is a both-and moment."

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Ms. Jackson's speech came two days after the EPA signalled its commitment to tackle climate change with a ruling that greenhouse gases are a danger to human health. The "endangerment" ruling, as it's called, means the agency can regulate greenhouse gases without the approval of Congress, where climate-change legislation to launch a carbon cap-and-trade market is stalled in the Senate.

The thousands of delegates from 192 countries at the summit cheered the EPA move. Without strong political support from the United States, the Copenhagen summit will probably fail, ending any hope that it can lead to a binding treaty some time next year.

While the spotlight on the third day of the 12-day conference was on Ms. Jackson, the developing world continued to grumble about the leaked Danish document that caused an uproar on Tuesday. If adopted, the document, dismissed as an informal consultative paper by Danish and United Nations officials, would permit wealthy countries to relax their emissions standards while forcing tough limits on developing countries.

It would also insist on strict monitoring before climate-change adaptation and mitigation funds are delivered to developing countries, something that China, among other countries, considers a violation of its sovereignty.

Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese diplomat who heads the developing countries negotiating bloc, derided the developed world's proposal to provide poor countries with $10-billion (U.S.) a year to fight climate change, saying it is meaningless compared with the fortunes Western governments have spent on bank bailouts.

"If this is the greatest risk that humanity faces, how do you explain $10-billion?" he said. "Ten billion dollars will not buy developing countries' citizens enough coffins."

Despite the rift that has opened between rich and poor countries, Michael Martin, Canada's chief climate-change negotiator, said progress is being made at the summit. "I think the mood in the conference is excellent, I think there is a collaborative spirit," he told reporters.

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Mr. Martin predicted a successful outcome on Dec. 18, when as many as 100 heads of state and government, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, arrive in Copenhagen to endorse a new climate-change agreement, whatever its shape.

Canada yesterday won its third consecutive "Fossil of the Day" award, handed out by a coalition of environmental groups to the countries considered the greatest laggards in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

But it wasn't all bad news. In response to a question about Canada's shabby image at the summit, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, told a press conference that Canada has been negotiating "very constructively" at Copenhagen despite some unique difficulties.

"Canada has a tough period behind it in the sense that Canada did ratify the Kyoto Protocol," Mr. de Boer observed, "but its main trading partner, the United States, did not, which left it in a very unbalanced situation."

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About the Author
European Columnist

Eric Reguly is the European columnist for The Globe and Mail and is based in Rome. Since 2007, when he moved to Europe, he has primarily covered economic and financial stories, ranging from the euro zone crisis and the bank bailouts to the rise and fall of Russia's oligarchs and the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. More

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