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U.S. Announces Target To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions


Today the White House delivered an ambitious target for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. Those gases contribute to climate change. The commitment is part of a global effort to forge a new treaty to protect the climate. NPR's Christopher Joyce has more.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: The next big thing in international climate negotiations takes place next December in Paris. The United Nations will try to get every country - rich and poor and in between - to set a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Today President Obama officially put his cards on the table - cut emissions 26 to 28 percent below their level in 2005, and do it in 10 years. White House adviser Brian Deese was quick to point out a press conference that the U.S. has already lowered its emissions, even as the economy has grown.


BRIAN DEESE: I think this reflects that in the United States we don't need to choose between economic growth and protecting our planet for future generations, and in fact, the world doesn't need to make that choice, as well.

JOYCE: The 28 countries in the European Union, as well as Switzerland, Norway, Mexico and Russia, have also made commitments. The rest of the world will add theirs over the next few months, then they'll be integrated into a formal treaty. That new climate treaty is going to be very different from the first one, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Kyoto didn't do much for the climate. Only about 40 countries signed on and none of the big emerging economies like China and India participated. Another problem, U.N. negotiators set the emissions targets in Kyoto, not each country. Jennifer Morgan who's with the World Resources Institute, an environmental group, says the Paris approach is different - each country makes its own voluntary commitment.

JENNIFER MORGAN: I think one thing that's been learned is that it's important for countries to really own the targets that they agree to.

JOYCE: But there's much more to resolve before the big meeting in Paris. For example, how is anyone going to make sure every country keeps its promise?

MORGAN: So you really can see under the hood, you know, and see what countries have put forward, understand how they compare to each other, be able to track them moving forward.

JOYCE: It's going to take a lot to pull that off. During previous negotiations, developing countries have chafed at the idea that the United Nations or other countries will be nosing around in their affairs or telling them how to run their economies. Mexico's commitment also suggests that developing countries will be asking for a quid pro quo in return for making big emissions cuts. The government has set two targets. One is more modest, one is more ambitious. They'll commit to the tougher one if they get money and bargain-priced technology, like solar panels or wind turbines, in return. Timmons Roberts, who's a professor of environmental studies at Brown University, says other developing countries could follow Mexico's lead.

TIMMONS ROBERTS: That is, they'll say we will reduce our emissions by x-amount if you provide us with y-amount of funding.

JOYCE: Roberts notes that developed countries have already pledged a hundred billion dollars a year in aid to help developing countries manage climate change, but it's likely that developing countries are going to want a lot more. Christopher Joyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.