BARACK Obama will attend climate-change talks in Copenhagen next month with no domestic US laws in place to back his position, after Senate leaders confirmed yesterday that debate on legislation would be delayed until next year.
The decision to put off debate on a climate-change bill that has already passed the US House of Representatives reflects a lack of time after congress has been sidetracked for weeks on far-reaching health reforms.
But the delay until March - a blow to the US President's domestic agenda - is also an indication of the lack of support among US politicians for pushing hard to curb carbon emissions at a time of economic uncertainty and high unemployment.
The US postponement is likely to be used by the federal opposition in Australia to argue against the Rudd government going it alone with a climate-change bill when US intentions remain unclear.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democrat majority leader, confirmed yesterday that the Senate would not debate a climate-change bill until March next year.
"We are going to try to do that sometime in the spring," he said.
The added difficulty for pushing the bill into next year is that the debate will run closer to mid-term congressional elections, when it will be more difficult to win support from senators facing voters whose jobs in carbon-emitting industries could be lost.
Legislation to be debated in the US Senate calls for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. The house bill, which passed in late June and is expected to be revised in the Senate, sought a 17 per cent cut in 2005 carbon-emission levels by 2020.
Under a cap-and-trade proposal, many polluting industries could buy permits, but most initial permits would be free.
The US Senate's position comes just a day after Mr Obama had revived hopes of reaching a binding agreement in Copenhagen next month in a deal with China to aim for a new accord on climate change with immediate operational effect.
Following talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mr Obama hopes that an agreement in Copenhagen can "rally the world around a solution to our climate challenge".
The prospect of climate-change legislation passing in the US Senate has been dimming for months after congress focused on another key part of Mr Obama's domestic political agenda: a healthcare bill to cut soaring costs and provide cover to millions of uninsured Americans.
A White House spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that Mr Obama was working with congress to have climate-change legislation passed as quickly as possible.
"This is an economic opportunity for the nation that will create millions of clean-energy jobs while reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil," he said.
"It's an opportunity that other countries like China and India are racing to take advantage of."
Many in the US Senate are not so confident because the American job market lags behind economic recovery.