The United States for the first time outlined a dual path towards cutting greenhouse gases yesterday.
The plan would involve both President Barack Obama’s administration and the US Congress, America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Lisa Jackson told the Copenhagen climate conference.
She also said her decision earlier this week that greenhouse gases should be regulated was intended to work alongside US legislation and not an effort to supplant the work of Congress. “This is not an either/or moment. This is a both/and moment,” she said.
The EPA on Monday gave the president a new way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions when it ruled that scientific evidence showed they were endangering Americans’ health. That means the EPA could regulate the gases without the approval of Congress.
The EPA decision was welcomed by other nations in Copenhagen.
Ms Jackson promised the US would take “meaningful, commonsense steps” to cut emissions.
Negotiators also worked to bridge the chasm between rich and poor countries over how to share the burden of fighting climate change.
Small island nations, poor countries and those seeking money to preserve their tropical forests were among those upset over leaked competing draft texts from Denmark and China outlining proposed outcomes for the summit.
Some of the poorest nations fear too much of the burden to curb greenhouse gases is being put on them. They want billions of dollars in aid from the wealthy countries.
Diplomats from developing countries and climate activists complained the Danish hosts pre-empted the negotiations with their draft proposal, which would allow rich countries to cut fewer emissions while poor nations would face tougher limits on greenhouse gases and more conditions on getting funds.
A Chinese counter-proposal would extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 industrial nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming by an average 5% by 2012, compared with 1990 levels.
The plan would incorporate new, deeper targets for the industrialised world for a further five to eight years.
Poorer nations believe the two-track approach would best preserve the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” recognised by the Kyoto treaty.
Meanwhile tiny Tuvalu demanded strong action to curb global warming. The Pacific island nation proposed amending the UN climate treaty to require the world’s nations to keep the rise in temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
But Danish conference president Connie Hedegaard declined to advance the proposal after objections from other nations, including oil producers, who would be hurt by the strict limits on burning fossil fuels.
Tuvalu and other low-lying nations will be the first victims if seas rise.