Tear down mental walls on climate, German chancellor says

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 3, 2009 

WASHINGTON — German Chancellor Angela Merkel made an impassioned plea Tuesday to a joint session of Congress to work together on efforts to curb global warming and to help forge a binding climate-change deal at an international meeting next month.

"We need an agreement on one objective: Global warming must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius," Merkel said, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. "To achieve this, we need the readiness of all countries to accept internationally binding obligations. We cannot afford missing the objectives in climate protection that science tells us have to be met."

Merkel said that people must tear down mental walls that blocked them from seeing the plight of future generations if warming continued unchecked. The world's nations will meet next month in Copenhagen, Denmark, for climate talks. She said they'd need to find the same resolve that Germans had when they brought down the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989.

"And then, in Copenhagen, we shall be able to overcome this wall separating the present from the future, in the interest of our children and grandchildren, and in the interest of sustainable development all over the world," Merkel said.

She urged the United States to join Europe in setting a limit on heat-trapping gases from fossil-fuel burning.

"It is true there can be no agreement without China and India," she said. "But I'm convinced that once we — Europe and America — show ourselves willing to accept binding agreements we will also be able to convince China and India to join."

Failure to cut emissions also would result in missed opportunities for sustainable economic growth from clean energy, the German leader said.

Democrats stood and cheered during her comments on climate change, while many Republicans sat without applauding, reflecting the partisan divide on the issue.

"She's going to be disappointed," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He doesn't accept the view of the vast majority of climate scientists, who say that greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation are responsible for a rise in global temperatures over recent decades.

The Republican-Democratic split on climate change also was evident Tuesday in the Senate. Republicans boycotted a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, blocking the panel from moving a bill that would put mandatory limits on emissions for consideration by other Senate committees.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said that the Environmental Protection Agency's analysis of the bill was incomplete. He also disagreed with the assumptions the agency used.

The Senate bill is expected to be revised greatly before a final vote, probably early next year. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the bill that resulted from the work of six Senate committees later this fall would undergo a full EPA analysis, which would take about five weeks.

Merkel met with President Barack Obama earlier Tuesday at the White House.

"The United States, Germany and countries around the world, I think, are all beginning to recognize why it is so important that we work in common in order to stem the potential catastrophe that could result if we continue to see global warming continuing unabated," Obama said before the meeting.

Later, after meeting with a delegation of top leaders from the European Union, Obama said they'd discussed climate change extensively and agreed that it's "imperative to redouble the efforts" on the road to Copenhagen to achieve success and avoid "a potential ecological disaster."

Merkel was the first German leader in more than 50 years to address Congress. Republicans and Democrats applauded when she spoke about not accepting a nuclear Iran, the world's responsibility in the war in Afghanistan and the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Merkel said the clock was ticking in Tehran on an international deal that would transfer most of Iran's low-enriched uranium out of the country to be converted for peaceful purposes. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has sent mixed signals about whether it will accept the offer.

"Iran knows our offer, but Iran also knows where we draw the line," she said to applause. "A nuclear bomb in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel and denies Israel the right to exist is not acceptable. Security of the state of Israel is, for me, non-negotiable now and forever."

On Afghanistan, Merkel pointed out that Germany has the third-largest troop contingent there.

"The international community's mission in Afghanistan is without any doubt a tough one that demands a lot from all of us, and it now needs to be transferred to the next phase as soon as a new Afghan government is in office," she said. "Our objective must be a strategy for transfer of responsibility, which we intend to develop together during a joint U.N. conference at the beginning of next year."

On German reunification, Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, said: "I think of Ronald Reagan, who far earlier than most, really, saw the sign of the times. And, standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate already in 1987 called out, 'Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' Ladies and gentlemen, to put it in just one sentence: We Germans know how much we owe you, our American friends. And we shall never — I personally shall never — forget this."

(Renee Schoof contributed to this article.)


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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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