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EU confident Obama will follow its lead on climate change

Brussels — The EU presidency is confident that under President Barack Obama, the United States will follow the leadership of the European Union by setting ambitious mid-term goals for cutting greenhouse gases.

The 27 EU nations in December committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 but have also agreed to increase the cut if the rest of the developed world gets on board with the plan.

"We know that the US wants to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, we don’t know what their mid-term target is," Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursik told reporters after a meeting with his EU counterparts. "We understand that the United States will follow the leadership of the European Union."

The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

The ministers see the arrival of Obama as a great boost for the chances of agreeing on a far-reaching global deal for climate change at talks in Copenhagen in December.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement that the Copenhagen meeting will seek to replace.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas echoed the Czech optimism.

If Obama is promising such sweeping greenhouse gas cuts by 2050 "that means they have to put on the table a mid-term target also,” he said. “They can’t do it all in the last year."

Bursik and Dimas announced that they would visit Washington on March 14 to 15 to sound out the intentions of the US administration.

And climate change will be one of the first things discussed with President Obama when he visits Prague on April 5, said Bursik.

Obama is to meet with European leaders at an EU-US summit in the Czech capital, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced Sunday.

The EU leaders hailed Obama’s plan for a landmark carbon gas cap-and-trade system to both fight climate change and pump billions into the Treasury purse to fund renewable energy programs.

The innovative program — similar to one already in place in Europe — would beef up US efforts against global warming by reducing the output of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases, while at the same time raising direly-needed revenue.

The administration’s proposed programme was part of a 3.55-trillion-dollar budget unveiled by the president last month. The budget outlines a cap-and-trade system that would limit emissions of greenhouse gases by manufacturers and permit companies to trade the right to pollute to other manufacturers.

Dimas stressed that the 30 percent emissions reduction target would be an average for developed nations and "the United States could do more or less."

However, the objectives will be achieved he said, asserting that "leadership without an ambitious mid-term target" is useless.