President Obama was asked a question today on global warming at his press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

Q:  And another political issue, if I may. Madam Chancellor, climate change. Germany, Europe are putting concrete targets on the agenda, concrete reduction targets. Will America in the post-Kyoto process be willing to commit itself to concrete reduction targets? Or are you pursuing a different kind of approach, Mr. President, similar to you predecessor in office?

Obama:  In terms of climate change, ultimately the world is going to need targets that it can meet. It can’t be general, vague approaches. We’re going to have to make some tough decisions and take concrete actions if we are going to deal with a potentially cataclysmic disaster. And we are seeing progress in Congress around energy legislation that would set up for the first time in the United States a cap and trade system. That process is moving forward in ways that I think if you had asked political experts two or three months ago would have seemed impossible.

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So I’m actually more optimistic than I was about America being able to take leadership on this issue, joining Europe, which over the last several years has been ahead of us on this issue.

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As I told Chancellor Merkel, unless the United States and Europe, with our large carbon footprints, per capita carbon footprints, are willing to take some decisive steps, it’s going to be very difficult for us to persuade countries that on a per capita basis at least are still much less wealthy, like China or India, to take the steps that they’re going to need to take in controlling carbon emissions.

So we are very committed to working together and hopeful that we can arrive in Copenhagen having displayed that commitment in concrete ways.

Obama understands that the rich countries must act first — as we agreed in the Rio Treaty of 1992 negotiated by Bush’s father and ratified by the Senate unanimously:

Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

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But he also understands we need to get some sort of a deal with China before Copenhagen, which is why he has had his top climate, energy, and science experts negotiating with the Chinese for many months (see “Exclusive: Have China and the U.S. been holding secret talks aimed at a climate deal this fall?“)

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