Sixteen nations are responsible for 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Now those nations, dubbed the "major emitters," are sending representatives to a conference beginning Monday in Washington, D.C., to see if they can work together to slow the pace of climate change.
The Obama administration has moved quickly to deal with climate change in the international arena. It has joined the United Nations talks that will take place in Copenhagen later this year and are aimed at developing a climate-change treaty. It is working one-on-one with China — which recently surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest carbon emitter.
And in the meetings that start Monday, the Obama administration is convening the 16 nations that contribute most to climate change.
"It was originally started by the Bush administration so they would appear to be doing something when they weren't really doing anything," says Timothy Wirth, who served in the Clinton administration as a climate envoy. He now runs a nonprofit group called the United Nations Foundation.
"It was a way of ducking their responsibilities, I think. But since then, I think people have come to understand how important it can be and should be," says Wirth about the meeting of the top emitter nations. "And I think it's a promising opportunity for the United States."
'Major Emitters' Strive For Major Progress
Convening the top emitters, rather than working with all 192 U.N. members who have pledged to deal with global climate change, is a simpler and quicker way to make progress, says Wirth.
So the Obama administration is making use of this so-called major emitters group. During a speech last week, State Department official Jonathan Pershing said part of the strategy is for this group to help shape the broader international negotiations.
"If you can grow a major economy's group — which includes the U.S. and China and Europe, and then Japan, Canada and Australia, but also India and Indonesia and Brazil — at that point, you're about 75 or 80 percent of global emissions, and you now have the political force and momentum to drive change," said Pershing.
Pershing said this group can also speed development of new, clean technologies and then figure out how to get them rapidly deployed around the world.
"And in that context, partnering with others around the world is going to be central," says Pershing. "If just the U.S. and China do it, it won't work; you need a larger economic force and the capacity brought to bear by all that talent that's around the world."
Since this group is just getting started, it's not entirely clear what it will set out to do. The meeting this week in Washington is designed to flesh out the key steps in this process and build to a culminating meeting of the world leaders in Italy this July.
Involving Businesses In Clean-Energy Quest
Some U.S. businesses see this forum as something that could help them. Lisa Jacobson, who heads a clean-energy industry group called the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, says the group could help ensure that American businesses aren't put at a disadvantage.
"Having all large emitting countries on a level playing field, a part of a global, multilateral, binding accord to reduce greenhouse gases — this is only going to mitigate competitive tensions," says Jacobson.
And in an ideal world, a deal that limits carbon emissions and promotes cleaner technologies could end up being a big boost to the companies ready to capitalize on that.