U.S. President Barack Obama said that he would like to see the United States play a leadership role on the issue of climate change when he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Friday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate bill -- the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES Act) -- by a vote of 219-212 after hours of heated debate.
The bill required U.S. companies to reduce from 2005 levels emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.
The new move marks a major step for the U.S. government to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet the United States still fell short of taking on its due responsibility as a developed country, much less its self-claimed "leading role" in tackling climate change.
The United States has been under wide criticism since the Bush administration withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, which is aimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative by Obama to readjust the U.S. policy on saving energy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions has served to improve U.S. image on the issue. But on the key issue of emission reduction commitment, Washington failed to give the international community a satisfactory answer.
The new U.S. bill, though containing some clauses on reducing fossil fuel use, makes no mention of the country's responsibility to the world on the issue.
Moreover, by using 2005 as its baseline, the United States only needs to cut emissions by 4 percent from the 1990 levels, an internationally recognized basis.
Compared with the European Union's commitment of a 20-percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, what the United States is doing in fact is only a play of numbers.
Some U.S. legislators went so far as to propose levying CO2 emission taxes on foreign products shipped into the United States. Experts noted that the consumers of the products rather than their manufacturers should pay CO2 tax. Such an attempt by U.S. legislators has nothing to do with "leadership role," but only smacks of dodging U.S. responsibility in emissions reduction.
As the world's biggest economy with the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions, the United States has a direct bearing on global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Therefore, any substantive progress at the Copenhagen climate change talks scheduled for December this year will hinge, to a large extent, on whether Washington agrees to set mandatory emissions targets.
As France noted in a memorandum at the EU Environment Ministers' Meeting on Thursday, the U.S. emission reduction commitment is far below the reasonable levels of a developed country. It urged the United States to follow suit and promise to slash its emissions by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
However, the call might well fall on deaf ears as the United States finds even the current commitment much too high. The narrow passage of the ACES Act revealed deep rifts between Democrats and Republicans over its possible impact on the U.S. economy. It remains to be seen whether the bill can survive the Senate vote at the end of this year.
The fate of the bill may well test the U.S. determination to play a leading role in the world to fight climate change.
(Xinhua News Agency June 29, 2009)