WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will go to Copenhagen for a UN climate change meeting on December 9, hoping to add momentum to an international process despite slow progress on a domestic bill to cut carbon emissions.
Obama planned to make a visit at the beginning of the climate negotiations in Denmark, an administration official told Reuters today, before picking up the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in nearby Oslo.
Obama did not plan to return for the end of the December 7-18 meeting, when roughly 65 other heads of state and government are expected to attend, the official said.
Obama has made climate change a top priority of his administration, but a bill to cut U.S. emissions is bogged down in the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of climate-change legislation.
The United Nations welcomed Obama's plan to attend the meeting as vital to achieving a strong deal.
"It's critical that President Obama attends the climate-change summit in Copenhagen," Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, told a news conference in Oslo when asked about Obama's plan to visit on December 9.
De Boer said the world was looking to the United States to offer a goal for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 and to offer money to help developing nations cope with global warming.
Most nations have given up hopes of agreeing to a binding legal treaty text in Copenhagen, partly because of uncertainty about what the United States will be able to offer.
Environmentalists had hoped Obama would be present for the leaders meeting at the end of the talks to give legitimacy to a "politically binding" agreement that host Denmark still hopes to achieve.
In such an agreement, developed nations would set goals for cutting emissions by 2020, developing nations would agree to slow the rise of their emissions, and the rich would come up with new aid and clean technology to help the poor cope with climate change.
The World Wildlife Fund issued a statement saying it was pleased Obama will be in Copenhagen during the early part of the climate summit.
"If his presence during the latter days of the [meeting] becomes necessary to secure the right commitments, we hope the president will be willing to return to Copenhagen with the rest of the world's leaders during the final stages of the negotiations," the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Program Director Keya Chatterjee said in the statement.