The President spoke today to the U.S. Global Leadership Council about America’s international development agenda. You can find his remarks here. His wide-ranging speech covered trade, debt relief, education, AIDS, and malaria. There was a lot to highlight, but I’m going to focus first on his new climate change proposal. Here’s the key quote:

In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it. The United States takes this issue seriously. The new initiative I am outlining today will contribute to the important dialogue that will take place in Germany next week. The United States will work with other nations to establish a new framework on greenhouse gas emissions for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. So my proposal is this: By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases. To help develop this goal, the United States will convene a series of meetings of nations that produce most greenhouse gas emissions, including nations with rapidly growing economies like India and China. In addition to this long-term global goal, each country would establish midterm national targets, and programs that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs. Over the course of the next 18 months, our nations would bring together industry leaders from different sectors of our economies, such as power generation and alternative fuels and transportation. These leaders will form working groups that will cooperate on ways to share clean energy technology and best practices.

Let’s break it down:

  • He’s proposing a new process. This is in part for consideration at next week’s G-8 meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany. (The G-8 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.) Stay tuned for more on the G-8 meeting.
  • The discussion would involve the “major emitters” – nations that are responsible for the majority of the world’s greenhouse gases. The top major emitters are: U.S., China, the European Union, Russia, Canada, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa. So everyone in the G-8 is included, as well as several others.
  • We (the U.S.) “will convene a series of meetings.”
  • The group would work to “set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.” Such a goal would be an aspirational (non-binding) global goal.
  • The Kyoto Protocol (which the U.S. rejected) expires in 2012. This new process is to establish a framework that would take effect after that. By the way, it can take place within the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  • Each country would set its own targets, and its own methods for hitting those targets. Some countries might like a carbon tax, others might like a national cap-and-trade system, others might take a sector-by-sector approach, and still others might set voluntary goals. But each nation decides for itself what makes sense based on its own particular circumstances.
  • The group should have all this worked out by the end of 2008. That’s an aggressive, but we think achievable, deadline.

Just in case you’re not a climate change expert, there’s some big news here – especially the U.S. talking about a new process post-2012, and a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases, and expanding the discussion to make sure it includes major emitters like China and India. Here’s the interesting part. Senator Boxer (D-CA) is the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Inhofe (R-OK) is the ranking Republican member of the same committee. Each is a respected leader in the climate change debate, and let’s just say the debate between them is often quite vigorous. Senator Boxer was quoted today as follows, “I have written to the President twice this year to ask him to convene a summit of the world’s largest emitting nations. Today he has accepted that challenge. I stand ready to assist him with the summit and continuing negotiations in any way I can.” Senator Inhofe said today, “Any international effort that builds off of the Asian Pacific Partnership and includes the developing nations is a positive step forward.” (The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate includes six countries that work together to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies.) Will the papers tomorrow highlight these preliminary indications of bipartisan support for the President’s proposal? Or will they instead focus on areas of disagreement?