President Obama today pledged a strong U.S. role in global efforts to curb climate change and called upon his fellow attendees of the Major Economies Forum on Climate Change to work in the coming months to come up with commitments to lessen greenhouse gases.
"In the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities," regarding climate change, Obama told the leaders of 16 other leading economies, but added, "those days are over."
"As I wrestle with these issues politically in my own country, I've come to see that it is going to be absolutely critical that all of us go beyond what's expected if we're going to achieve our goals," the president told fellow attendees.
"While we don't expect to solve this problem in one meeting or in one summit, I believe we've made some important strides forward," Obama said.
But like the Group of Eight industrialized nations Thursday, the MEF today committed to nothing more than non-binding goals.
For instance, the MEF acknowledged the presiding scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above preindustrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees Celsius, but described no concrete steps the attendees would take to prevent a rise of more than 2 degrees from happening.
The leaders of many developing nations, including India and China, have balked at the "robust aggregate and individual reductions" in greenhouse gases that the MEF Declaration called for countries to implement before the December United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen.
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern noted that developing nations have never before committed -- even in principle -- to taking steps to make meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases between now and 2050. Nor have they, he said, acknowledged the consensus that the global temperature should not rise by more than 2 degrees.
The president said the group had "made a good start, but I'm the first one to acknowledge that progress on this issue will not be easy." He called upon his colleagues to "fight the temptation toward cynicism, to feel that the problem is so immense that somehow we cannot make significant strides."
"It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change," he said. "We each have our national priorities and politics to contend with, and any steps we agree to here are intended to support and not replace the main U.N. negotiations with more than 190 countries."
Asked why the president felt the need to underline times when the United States had fallen short of its responsibilities, Stern said the United States has a "historic responsibility" for emissions that are already in the atmosphere.
"It's valuable to recognize where we've come up short and also to recognize that it's a new day now," he said.
To alleviate the concerns of developing nations that restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases would harm their economies, the MEF Declaration called upon industrialized nations to recognize an "immediate need to assist the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt" to climate change, pledging financial assistance and technologies. The group announced the formation of a Global Partnership "to drive transformational low-carbon, climate-friendly technologies."