'Two Different Worlds' Merkel Wants More on Climate from Obama

As far as German Chancellor Angela Merkel is concerned, when it comes to combating climate change, US President Barack Obama refuses to go the distance. The US has stalled progress on a global agreement, and a bill currently before Congress is too anemic.

"Stop it. All of you." That was US President Barack Obama's message to the German press corps during his recent trip to Dresden when asked about reports of tensions between him and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He went on to say that relations between Washington and Berlin are "outstanding."

Merkel and Obama are separated by a wide gulf when it comes to the environment.

Merkel and Obama are separated by a wide gulf when it comes to the environment.

Yet ahead of Merkel's visit to Washington on Thursday and Friday -- and just over a week prior to the G-8 meeting in Italy in early July -- there are once again indications that the two world leaders do not see eye-to-eye on some very important issues. At the beginning of June, Merkel told an audience in Berlin that she was "very skeptical" of the policies currently being followed by the US Federal Reserve and called for a "return to rational policies."

Now, it appears as though Merkel is planning to confront Obama head on when it comes to his administration's environmental policies. According to Thursday's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, citing German government sources, Merkel plans to "discuss at length her climate goals," in an effort to get Obama on board. Germany is concerned about indications that the US may not be quite as serious about combating global warming as Obama's speeches make it seem.

The issue of climate change is seen in Berlin as one of the most important facing the world this year as the effort continues to come up with an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Germany, together with the European Union, has set a target of a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. The EU has said it would up that target to 30 percent if other major polluters join them. A panel of United Nations scientists has said that a 25 percent to 40 percent reduction by industrial countries is necessary to avoid catastrophic consequences stemming from global warming.

But the US has shown recent reluctance to go along with such ambitious targets. Speaking on Tuesday at the end of a Mexico City meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate -- an assembly of 19 countries and the EU which together are responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions -- US climate envoy Todd Stern was dismissive of calls for higher reduction commitments.

'Not in the Cards'

"The 40 percent below 1990 (levels) is something which in our judgment is not necessary and not feasible given where we're starting from," Stern said. "So it's not in the cards."

A bill currently up for consideration in the US House of Representatives calls for a 17 percent reduction in America's CO2 emissions by 2020 relative to 2005 levels with an 83 percent reduction by 2050. German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel has been quick to criticize the proposal -- known as the Waxman-Markey bill -- saying that the US needs to do more. He said that when it comes to environmental awareness, the US and Europe "live in two different worlds."

Experts at the World Resources Institute think tank have calculated that if the US reaches the targets outlined by the bill, it would mean just a 4 percent reduction in American CO2 emissions relative to the 1990 baseline used by the European Union.

Earlier this month, climate negotiators from around the world gathered in Bonn in the run up to a December summit in Copenhagen. But the Bonn meeting ended inconclusively, throwing doubt on whether a final Kyoto successor agreement can be signed in Copenhagen as originally planned.

According to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday, negotiations aimed at paving the way for the G-8 summit in Italy at the beginning of July have hit a roadblock when it comes to climate issues. The report cites meeting notes from pre-G-8 talks stating that both the US and Japan are skeptical of ambitious emissions-reduction goals. Canada and Russia have likewise opted out. The two countries want national reduction goals that include targets only for 2050.

Environmentalists in Germany have called on Merkel to do what she can to convince Obama of the need for stricter emissions-reduction targets. Tobias Münchmeyer, a climate expert with Greenpeace, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that "we have the impression that the American G-8 negotiator is slowing the discussion. It is important that Merkel makes it clear to Obama that something substantial must come out of the G-8 summit."

cgh -- with wire reports


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