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He would not wait for China and India to act, but insist it must not be far behind making its own binding commitments, Obama aides told Nature, the British science journal, last month.
Obama will soon have the chance to show how keen he is turn this rhetoric into action. He is likely to send members of his transition team to Poznan, Poland, for the December U.N. climate talks. They will be negotiators-in-waiting alongside the official U.S. delegation, now in the sunset of the Bush presidency.
Enemy of time
Obama's big problem is time. Only a year will remain before the U.N. negotiations climax in Copenhagen. Traditionally, it takes a U.S. president months to appoint a cabinet and gain Congressional approval for it.
Then there is the mammoth challenge of a carbon emissions bill, which powerful utilities and oil corporations may well fight every inch of the way.
It could take until 2010 before such a bill becomes law, said Steve Sawyer, a former Greenpeace activist who now heads the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), an interest group in Brussels.
"The room to manoeuvre on the CO2 cap and international negotiations issue will be determined more by attitudes in Congress than the general public," he said.
Detchon said other countries will be demanding "some indication" that Congress will go along with Obama's climate policies. In 1997, the US Senate â€“ whose approval is needed to ratify a treaty â€“ voted 98-to-0 against the Clinton administration's approval of the Kyoto format.
To marshal support, Obama could argue that investment in renewables will create jobs and channel some of the revenues from the carbon market to the public's benefit, said some analysts. He could also argue that energy efficiency is linked to national security, weaning the US away from imported fossil fuels from volatile regions.
"The same issues that you have to address if you want to reduce dependence on imported oil and create a higher degree of energy security are the same issues that you must address from a climate perspective," said Bjorn Stigson, president of the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development.