The U.N. Convention in Copenhagen 101

What You Need to Know in Advance of the International Climate Change Summit

What you need to know in advance of the climate change summit on what the United States and international community are doing to get us on track for an agreement.

U.S. President Barack Obama is joined by other leaders, including Brazilian President Inacio Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a multilateral meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 18, 2009. (AP/Susan Walsh)
U.S. President Barack Obama is joined by other leaders, including Brazilian President Inacio Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a multilateral meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 18, 2009. (AP/Susan Walsh)

The ingredients for a successful outcome at Copenhagen are all there. We are on track to set the architecture for a legally binding agreement in 2010 by following a two-step Danish proposal supported by President Barack Obama and finalizing an interim agreement at the meeting. Here’s how actions by the Obama administration and international community have moved us toward establishing an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and why doing so will help every nation.

The United States has laid the groundwork for negotiations

  • The Obama administration set a provisional target for greenhouse gas pollution reductions. President Obama announced on November 25 a provisional U.S. greenhouse gas pollution reduction target “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This was the first time the United States proposed its own reduction targets as part of the international negotiation process. This provisional reduction proposal is dependent on congressional approval.
  • The federal government made the largest investment in clean energy in U.S. history. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invested $90 billion in clean-energy programs and tax incentives.
  • President Obama set aggressive new fuel economy standards. The president announced new motor vehicle fuel economy standards in May that would reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 950 million metric tons annually starting in 2016.
  • The Obama administration established new federal greenhouse gas pollution limits. An October executive order requires federal government agencies to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that must be met by 2020. All of these actions, along with additional steps forward, will help enhance American economic competitiveness. And on December 7, Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson announced the "endangerment finding" under the Clean Air Act. This enables EPA to finalize limits on global warming pollution from motor vehicles and large industrial sources. President Obama would prefer that Congress, rather than EPA, establish these pollution limits, but the endangerment finding means that EPA will act if Congress fails to do so.
  • Climate change legislation is on track for passage next year. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a similar bill in November. Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are writing clean-energy and global warming legislation that should appeal to Senate moderates and demonstrate strong momentum for a bipartisan Senate bill. Senator Kerry has introduced the International Climate Change Investment Act, which will help the United States fulfill its expected obligations to developing countries by providing immediate assistance for adaptation to climate change and access to clean-energy technology.
  • Clean-energy jobs provisions could spark additional energy investment. Congress is likely to consider a job creation bill that could include significant investments in clean-energy job creation and manufacturing.

Large emitting nations are ready to cooperate

  • China announced a carbon reduction target. The Obama administration’s hard work with China and India is starting to pay off. China announced on Thanksgiving Day a target of reducing carbon pollution per unit of gross domestic product by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. This is the first time China has committed to specific carbon reductions. The November joint statement by Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao on the creation of a greenhouse gas inventory between the U.S. EPA and China will make it possible to measure and verify these reductions.
  • India announced a carbon reduction target. India announced on December 2, soon after the U.S.-India summit in Washington, that it intends to offer a target for decreasing its carbon intensity 24 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. This is the first time India has proposed its own specific carbon reduction target, which adds to its already established commitment to set the largest solar power generation target in the world.

China and India’s new goals are clear signs that the largest economies in the developing world are repositioning themselves to be constructive players in Copenhagen and may be prepared to begin committing to transparent and accountable reductions. Other major economies in the developing world have similarly stepped up with their own carbon pollution reduction plants, including Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, and South Africa, significantly increasing the likelihood for success at Copenhagen. They are joined by Japan, South Korea, Australia, the European Union, and other countries that have increased their ambition for carbon reductions in advance of the Copenhagen meeting.

Existing policies get on the right path

  • Current and planned policies would already yield 65 percent of needed reductions. Project Catalyst and the Center for American Progress modeled the pollution reductions from policies implemented and proposed by the 16 nations of the Major Economies Forum and the 27 countries of the European Union. The best-case scenario shows that these policies provide 65 percent of the immediate reductions science recommends by 2020. This would help the world limit total atmospheric concentration to 450 parts per million of carbon equivalent. This is the stabilization pathway that the Nobel Prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change estimates is necessary to limit temperature increase to 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. An international agreement should allow for a full accounting of each nation’s commitment to achieve these goals and eventually increase to the full reductions needed for climate stability.
  • U.S. state and regional efforts will achieve emissions reductions. Executive actions, state and regional efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, and greenhouse gas pollution reduction programs provide a backstop for the United States to make international commitments to decrease its emissions, even without final passage of a comprehensive clean-energy and climate change bill.

Cooperation on climate will boost the economy

  • An international agreement would restart the global economy. A binding international agreement would spark more public and private outlays for clean-energy technologies to capitalize on emerging clean-energy investment opportunities abroad and at home. A report to be released at Copenhagen by the Center for American Progress as part of the nine-party Global Climate Network estimates that part of the current and proposed clean-energy proposals in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Nigeria, South Africa, India, China, Australia, and Brazil would produce a total of 19.7 million jobs. This report also demonstrates that job growth will accelerate and multiply as more countries adopt clean-energy policies and trade their various clean technologies across borders.
  • Financing technology leads to job growth. An expenditure of $4.5 billion on smart grid technology as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act should create 278,600 U.S. jobs during installation, and 139,700 of these would be ongoing. This is a fairly modest example, and an additional 138,000 U.S. jobs could be created to serve an export market if other countries also install smart grid technologies.
  • Cooperation on clean-energy technology creates jobs here. According to a CAP-Asia Society report, a U.S.-China collaboration to research, develop, and deploy carbon capture and sequestration technology could lead to a five-year acceleration of the commercialization of this critical technology to slash carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. This program would create an additional 403,000 jobs in the United States, and a 10-year acceleration of deployment could create as many as 943,000 new U.S. jobs by 2022.

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Rebecca Lefton

Senior Policy Analyst

Andrew Light

Senior Fellow

Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow