U.S. Plans For Climate Change In Copenhagen World leaders meet in Copenhagen Tuesday to begin an 11-day conference on climate change. The U.S. is going into the conference after already reaching an agreement with China that both countries will work toward what they call "significant" efforts to cut down emissions. Host Scott Simon talks to Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero about U.S. preparations for the conference.
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U.S. Plans For Climate Change In Copenhagen

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U.S. Plans For Climate Change In Copenhagen

U.S. Plans For Climate Change In Copenhagen

U.S. Plans For Climate Change In Copenhagen

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World leaders meet in Copenhagen Tuesday to begin an 11-day conference on climate change. The U.S. is going into the conference after already reaching an agreement with China that both countries will work toward what they call "significant" efforts to cut down emissions. Host Scott Simon talks to Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero about U.S. preparations for the conference.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

More news on the climate change conference. Late yesterday, President Obama announced he's changing the timing of his visit. Previously he planned to stop in Denmark on Wednesday while en route to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Now he says he'll go to Copenhagen on December 18th when more world leaders will be in attendance. The U.S. is entering that conference after already reaching an agreement with China that both countries will work toward what they call significant efforts to cut down emissions. President Obama is expected to declare at the conference the U.S. will cut its own carbon emissions by more than 80 percent over the next 40 years. We're joined now by Maria Otero, Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs at the State Department. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. MARIA OTERO (Department of State): My pleasure.

SIMON: Let me ask you about what we're told will be the president's goal of cutting emissions by 80 percent over the next 40 years. I was struck by a piece that Richard K. Lester, who's head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, had in Friday's Wall Street Journal, where he said it's just not realistic to think that that goal can be achieved without major reliance on nuclear energy. And he said a lot of the president's environmental, environmentalist allies don't like nuclear energy. Do you agree with that?

Ms. OTERO: Well, I think this is one of the considerations that we have to take into place, but I don't know that we can think and rely only on this question of nuclear energy. Clearly there are many other issues that will affect emissions as we move forward in the coming decades, and I think we're seeing on the part of the president's efforts an attempt to really move us in the direction of addressing renewable energy. As you know, that's already been built into the economic recovery efforts, in addressing fuel efficiency and looking at how we can now look at vehicle efficiency, at applying efficiency. It does mean in many ways that we also need to look at the way in which we use energy. Certainly...

SIMON: Let me press you a bit on this, if I could, Undersecretary Otero, because I - and I think you probably know that what Dr. Lester was saying is not that those other energies you cite aren't worth pursuing, he just said it is not realistic to think that that ambitious goal of 80 percent - cutting emissions by 80 percent over the next 40 years - will be met without nuclear energy. He's got nothing against the other forms.

Ms. OTERO: Sure.

SIMON: He just says that, if I may, I think his language was even stronger. He thought people that think you can leave nuclear energy out are not being honest.

Ms. OTERO: Well, that is one of the areas that I think we really do need to look into. But I - there are so many other areas that need to be addressed as well. And certainly the president is putting forth the kind of targets that we want to move towards. And certainly, as we're looking at moving towards 80 percent reduction by 2050, we still need to look at reducing emissions for 2020, you know, in sort of smaller amounts as we move forward. We really do need to take, if you will, this decade at a time as we move in.

SIMON: Now, are you reluctant to even mouth the phrase nuclear energy because you don't want to offend another part of President Obama's supposed political base?

Ms. OTERO: No, not at all. I think it is - you know, as we are looking at climate change, we are going to have to look at all the possible ways in which we're going to address the question of energy efficiency and of really moving our country and really moving the world towards a clean energy world. And I think we are going to have to look at all the different possible ways in which we can do that.

SIMON: Maria Otero, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. OTERO: Thank you.

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