A final shove
Environment | President Obama needs more than words to rally the world to follow his lead on climate change
by Daniel James Devine
Posted 12/18/09, 12:49 pm
President Obama's words Friday at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen were intended to motivate hundreds of bleary-eyed negotiators into a political agreement over carbon emissions. For that to happen, Obama needs more than oratory skill and an international fan base. He needs the cooperation of the U.S. Senate and China.
Thursday in Copenhagen Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the United States was ready to contribute an unnamed amount of money to a joint fund of "$100 billion a year by 2020" to help the world's poorest nations adapt to perceived climate change. She said under pending legislation the United States would cut its own emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels within a decade, and a lofty 80 percent by 2050. Her remarks were hailed as a breakthrough for the UN talks, which were said to have been stalled Wednesday evening.
But the $100 billion fund and carbon cuts are contingent upon two things outside of Clinton's and Obama's ultimate control: Chinese diplomacy and U.S. Senate votes. Pending energy legislation remains pending because of a lack of congressional consensus. In spite of ongoing attempts by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to broker a climate bill, he told reporters in Copenhagen Wednesday the bill's mechanism for putting an economic price on carbon was still "not resolved." Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told summit attendees not to get a "false impression" from Kerry's appearance, which had elicited a standing ovation at the Bella convention center: "The United States is not going to pass cap-and-trade. It just isn't going to happen."
China, the other giant at Copenhagen along with the United States, still isn't committing to the transparency-that is, a willingness to allow international auditing of its carbon reduction pledges-Clinton insisted on Thursday. China's top climate negotiator, Su Wei, told a reporter this week, "I don't see the necessity of others to worry about the sincerity of China's effort to address climate change." China continues to promise "dialogue and cooperation" while fencing off outside accountability. Clinton said continued resistance to transparency would be "kind of a deal-breaker for us."
Meanwhile, the G-77, a group of poor and developing nations (including China and India) that were partnered in the climate negotiations, is experiencing schism. With its 130 member nations pursing sometimes-dissimilar economic interests, the president of the Maldives predicted Thursday morning the G-77 would fall apart as a climate-negotiating bloc.
In spite of conflict, delegates reached at least one compromise this week: A program to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation was expected by some to be the biggest success of the summit. It would give participating nations international carbon credits for preserving habitats like forests and perhaps even peat bogs.
E. Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance, a Judeo-Christian environmental group that is opposed to the climate treaty, spoke to me on Thursday from Copenhagen, where he has been following events and taking part in protests. Beisner said his group of 30 or 40 was enormously outnumbered by Communist Party and other socialist activists who carried signs with slogans like, "System Change. Not Climate Change." (The socialist leanings of the crowds in Copenhagen could explain the enthusiastic applause Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez aroused there this week when he said in a speech, "Let's fight against capitalism and make it obey us!")
"There was very little talk in the marching crowds about global temperatures. It was all about politics and economics," said Beisner, who noted that Copenhagen was blanketed with three inches of snow. "They want a replacement of capitalism with socialism and they want a massive transfer of wealth from the West to the rest."
Beisner said Scripture indicates government policies should protect the poor, but the UN treaty would harm the poor by driving up energy costs: "This really would mean postponing for generations their rise out of abject poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany that."