WASHINGTON — The United States is to announce concrete targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as pressure mounts on polluters to find a formula for success two weeks ahead of a crucial climate summit.
China has put the issue on the agenda of a summit meeting with the European Union next week and leaders of the 53 members of the Commonwealth, representing around two billion people, are set to address it at their weekend gathering in Trinidad.
And Australia, the world's heaviest per capita polluter, is attempting to rush legislation through parliament curbing emissions ahead of the December 7-18 climate conference in Copenhagen.
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But experts say the key issue ahead of the summit is uncertainty over what, if anything, the United States will do to reduce global warming, widely considered a major threat to the survival of the planet.
That will become clear within days, US President Barack Obama's administration said late Monday, attempting to remove a major obstacle to the summit goal of finding a global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.
"Countries will need to put on the table what they are willing to do on emissions," a senior administration official told journalists. "We expect that a decision will be made in the coming days."
On Tuesday Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urged parliament in Canberra to rush through legislation ahead of the conference that would slash carbon pollution by up to 25 percent by 2020.
And China said that the issue would be on the agenda of a summit with the European Union on Monday in the eastern city of Nanjing.
At its two-yearly summit, the Commonwealth, composed mainly of former British colonies, is to put forward a strong political statement that will address global warming, said the group's Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma.
Australia and China are among 192 countries invited to take part in the Copenhagen conference and so far 65 world leaders have agreed to attend, including from Germany, France and Brazil.
An emissions target from the United States, the world's number two polluter and wealthiest country, was essential for the success of the conference, according to United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer.
"The key issue here at the moment is the United States. My sense is Obama will be in a position to come to Copenhagen with a target and a financial contribution," he said in Brussels on Monday.
It was unclear what the official US target would be but the administration official said it would not differ much from levels set out in legislation before Congress.
A US House of Representatives bill, passed in June, calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050. A bill before the Senate talks of a 20-percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.
The European Union has vowed to reduce its emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels before 2020, raising the target to 30 percent in the event of an international agreement. Japan has offered 25 percent, but attached conditions.
In order to limit warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a threshold widely adopted as safe, scientists say emissions by industrialized nations must fall by 25-40 percent by 2020 over 1990 levels.
The United States was the world's biggest carbon emitter until it was overtaken by China in 2006, according to the Global Carbon Project, a consortium of leading climate scientists.
China along with India and other developing nations, is reluctant to commit to binding gas reductions at the Copenhagen talks, arguing that wealthy nations bear historic responsibility for carbon emissions.
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