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Published: Monday, 11/30/2009

Climate progress

PRESIDENT Obama's decision to attend the summit on climate change in Copenhagen next month and to announce in advance U.S. targets to reduce carbon emissions is a promising move.

Global warming is a top priority for the nations of the world and one which cannot be attacked without coordinated international action. For some U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, it is the chief issue in their relations with Washington.

China's quick announcement on the heels of Mr. Obama's commitment that it, too, would engage the problem of greenhouse gas emissions was evidence of the crucial role of American leadership in the matter and also a revelation of what the President discussed fruitfully with the Beijing leadership in private during his recent visit.

A United Nations summit on climate change without the presence of the American president would have had a dampening effect on what will, in any case, probably be a less than satisfying outcome. What is likely to result in Copenhagen, as a result of the two weeks of deliberations, is a general statement of goals rather than specific commitments. Mr. Obama's own ability to deliver on his pledge, not yet backed by Congress, of an emissions cut of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 will be in question.

Given the congressional Republicans' reflex opposition to just about anything Mr. Obama proposes, they are likely to lay down the same roadblocks to White House goals on climate change. Yet some noteworthy party leaders, including 2008 presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, have favored action to reduce emissions.

There is some question of whether Mr. Obama is right to attend the early days of the Copenhagen summit, before going on to Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, rather than arriving near the end when other heads of state will be there. While the important thing is that he go, it may be more effective for the American president to attend early to set the tone for what could be a historic meeting of the minds on what is a grave global problem.

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