WASHINGTON — China, India, the U.S. and the rest of the world's biggest polluters turned in their official pledges to reduce emissions, a move that gives global climate protection a start, the United Nations announced on Monday.
The pledges are written declarations of what countries promised to do during the global climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December. Although they're nonbinding and fall short of what's needed to be effective, the pledges are evidence that some developed and developing countries intend to put their promises into actions.
The U.N. reported that 55 countries, which together account for 78 percent of global emissions from energy use, turned in their action plans. The deadline was Sunday, but the U.N. said it was still open to late submissions.
The U.N. report came on the same day that the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review identified climate change as a major security threat.
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Calling climate change "an accelerant of instability," the review marked the first time such a document linked environmental issues with national security.
The U.S. pledge, submitted Thursday, was to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Obama administration is looking to Congress to pass a law that sets out a plan to achieve the goal.
If Congress fails to do that by the end of the year, the administration will have to talk about alternative ways to honor its foreign policy commitment on climate change, said Alden Meyer, the director of strategy and policy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy group.
"How they get to 17 percent remains to be seen, but it's still possible to get there," he said.
Other options for the administration include emissions reductions requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Energy and other agencies also could cut emissions by requiring better energy efficiency for buildings, vehicles and appliances. State and local efforts also could help add up to lower national emissions.
The president's budget proposal on Monday included increased spending to develop renewable energy, including $108 million to expand research in renewable energy and $300 million for the Advanced Research Project Agency, which funds the development of future energy technologies.
The budget proposal also called for the elimination of $2.7 billion in tax subsidies for oil, gas and coal. The Department of Energy also planned to end federal support for the "Ultra-Deepwater" exploration program for oil and natural gas. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said oil and gas companies could take over the exploration, at a taxpayer savings of $50 million.
The Energy Department also wants an additional $36 billion for loan guarantees for nuclear power projects. Chu called it part of a plan to help "restart the nuclear industry in the United States."
China also has paired large investments in clean energy with its pledge to reduce emissions growth.
"We believe these targets are solid and to meet them China will have to go far beyond business as usual," said Barbara Finamore, a China expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that has a 25-person office in China.
South Korea's ambassador for climate change, Chung Rae-kwon, said Monday during a teleconference with reporters that his country was implementing a plan through 2013 to invest 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product each year on "green growth" and expects a payback of greater economic growth. South Korea also expects the investment will produce about 250,000 new jobs, he said.
South Korea would stick with its plan regardless of what the U.S. or other countries do "because we believe that low-carbon green growth is an opportunity for job creation and economic growth," he said.
Still, U.S. congressional action on climate legislation was essential for getting a global climate treaty in December at talks in Mexico, Chung said. "If we don't see positive development from the United States . . . there will be a serious impact on negotiations leading up to Mexico."
Keya Chatterjee, director of the World Wildlife Fund's climate change program, said that because a climate bill is stuck in the Senate, "the U.S. remains tethered to the starting blocks while the rest of the world is beginning to complete lap one in the race for the clean energy economy."
Jennifer Morgan, the director of the World Resources Institute's climate and energy program, said the said the submission of written pledges in January showed that the countries were serious about shifting to cleaner energy.
"The pledges made by countries like Japan, China, Europe and India show a commitment to collective, transparent action on a scale never seen before," she said in a statement. "The United States should have no doubt that these countries plan to build their economies with clean energy."
The international promises, however, are "far below what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," she added. "The level of ambition must be ratcheted up if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of warming."
(Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.)
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