Environment | President Obama leads off a busy week at the UN with an address on climate change
by Alisa Harris
Posted 9/23/09, 12:50 pm
NEW YORK-As leaders meet at the United Nations to forge a consensus on climate change before they tackle the United Nations 64th General Assembly, the real news on the issue is happening at home.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the Summit on Climate Change to find common ground before the nations meet at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December. Developing nations-especially small ones-worry that climate change restrictions will slow their economic growth.
President Barack Obama gave few concrete commitments in his address Tuesday-just reiterated the U.S. commitment to battling climate change, pointed out its past actions, and said developed nations should share clean technology and help smaller developing nations "adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development."
More concrete change, however, is taking place at home: For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday began requiring 10,000 facilities to report their greenhouse gas emissions, which will cover 85 percent of such emissions in the United States. The EPA will then use the data to decide how to cut them further.
And on Monday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states could sue six electric utility companies for emitting greenhouse gases. A lower court threw out the case, deeming it a "political question," but the appeals court overturned the decision, arguing that it was legitimate for the states to argue that the companies' emissions were a "public nuisance." Said the court, "It cannot be gainsaid that global warming poses serious economic and ecological problems that have an impact on both domestic politics and international relations."
In a press conference following Obama's speech, Carol Browner-the president's adviser on energy and climate change-used yesterday's decision to urge passage of the climate change bill, saying that Congress should create a uniform policy instead of letting the courts arbitrate.
Obama did not issue a deadline for passing the climate change bill or say how he intended to pressure legislators to pass it. But Browner said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has promised to push a draft in the next seven to 10 days.
Other nations gave more harsh calls to action. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on nations "to transcend the role playing, the empty speeches, the petty diplomatic games" and to "decide not for our countries, for our regions, not even for our continents but . . . for our entire planet." Sarkozy said nations should create a world environmental organization, and developed nations should help vulnerable states shoulder the cost.
The summit on climate change marks the beginning of the United Nations General Assembly debate with its closed-door negotiations and controversial public speakers. On Tuesday, Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to urge them to restart peace talks-the first such meeting in almost a year. Obama will give a speech on foreign policy on Wednesday, and on Thursday, he will chair the UN Security Council. Iranian-Americans are organizing protests against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Wednesday speech. Foreign ministers from Russia, China, France, Britain, the United States, and Germany will meet with European Union officials to discuss policy toward Iran's nuclear program.