16 December 2009

Catch 22

Prospects for U.S. climate legislation hinge on a successful outcome at Copenhagen, says Senator John Kerry (D-MA):
If international climate change talks falter this week, chances for the United States approving its own carbon pollution-reduction plan will seriously erode, U.S. Senator John Kerry warned on Wednesday.
Meantime, negotiators in Copenhagen await leadership from the United States as the basis for an international agreement:
Everyone is waiting to see if President Obama will improve the offer from the US when he joins the conference on Friday. There is a widespread reluctance among other countries to make significant concessions until the country which has caused most of the problem takes more of its fair share of the burden of solving it.
But the United States won't go further than its legislative process will allow:
. . . the United States poured cold water on the notion that it would deepen its offer of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, as outlined by President Barack Obama in the run-up to the conference.

"I am not anticipating any change in the mitigation commitment," US chief delegate Todd Stern told a press conference.

"Our commitment is tied to our anticipated legislation and there are elements in that legislation that could result in an overall target or an overall reduction amount that could actually be a fair amount higher.

"But we're not making a commitment to that right now because it's just uncertain and we don't want to promise something that we don't have."

Unless President Obama can spring a substantive surprise this week in Copenhagen, guess who is going to once again be the bad guy in the negotiations?


  1. Here's a question for students of American politics:

    If the international community demonizes the United States over Obama's position on climate change, the response of the US electorate will be to:

    A. Deepen its commitment to climate change
    B. Do Nothing
    C. Lessen its commitment to climate change

    I think that "C" is fairly likely.

    It will be a diplomatic triumph for the Obama administration if this week's negotiations are portrayed, not as a failure by the United States, but as a deep divide between developed and developing nations.

    I actually think that they can pull it off.

    If they do, the assist goes to George W. Bush who so very effectively articumalated what the Europeans will get in the White House if they spurn our most generous politically feasible offers on climate.

  2. It was announced a month ago that there would be no agreement. Now everyone pretends that there can be an agreement "if only." Everyone involved knows that American climate change law comes from
    Congress, not the White House. Yet they pretend that Obama could deliver "if only."

    Magical thinking.

  3. I think the amount of political posturing here is enormous. China and India are much more concerned with economic development than the climate but are not above using climate change as an opportunity to enhance their global competitiveness. The Chinese however have grown so fast into an economic powerhouse that they are now the biggest sovreign lender to the US for its national debt. I think they'd be perfectly happy to see any agreement be very weak or even have the conference collapse because if the US declines economically even further, any money they get back may be seriously devalued. In other words, they'd be perfectly happy to let the US be the fall guy for continuation of the status quo. I'd even bet their are a few Europeans hoping for the same conclusion.

  4. Isn't it possible for The One to sorts, kinda "promise" to cut carbon emissions "x amount" via EPA rulemaking (never mind the fact that any new EPA rulemakings on CO2 will be held up in court for years), thereby offering "leadership" by the USA?

  5. I think we should walk away from these negotiations permanently. We should do what we think is appropriate and achievable without economic harm. India and China are set on BAU. Any legislation should bar the EPA from imposing tougher restrictions.

  6. If a US politician tried to rally support from the voters by using UN demonization as a tool, the reaction will be explosive. AGW would become Oil for Food, the politician would have to retire, and the GOP would capture both houses of Congress and the White House.

  7. The most important man in Copenhagen is Gordon Brown. He was the important man during the financial crisis, the G20 meetings and the pre Copenhagen agreements.

    I suspect myself, that the build up of tension to an agreement is 100% drama. The same thing happened at Kyoto. Expect a last minute British intervention to save the day (like John Prescott at Kyoto). Yes, it sounds incredibly unlikely, but politicians don't normally set themselves up for global, media covered failure.

    In this BBC interview Brown expresses total confidence that agreement will be reached, even with the naughty Americans.

    He also reveals, to the obvious extreme scepticism and incredulity of the BBC interviewer, that the so called help for poor countries he has been promoting, will actually come from carbon trading, but not revealing the mechanism that will bring it about.


    outside UK (2mb)


  8. "But the United States won't go further than its legislative process will allow"

    It's clear we need to tear that musty old constitution out of the national archives and burn it.

  9. The latest news is China won't commit. Sounds like Copenhagen is dead.

  10. Exactly as I predicted, the British saved the day at the very last second.


    Last night Miliband was being credited with helping to rescue the summit from disaster. He had been preparing to go to bed at 4am, after the main accord had been agreed, only to be called by officials and warned that several countries were threatening to veto its signature.

    Miliband returned to the conference centre in time to hear Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping comparing the proposed agreement to the Holocaust. He said the deal "asked Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries". A furious Miliband intervened and dismissed Di-Aping's claims as "disgusting".

    This was "a moment of profound crisis", Miliband told delegates. The proposed deal was by no means perfect, and would have many problems, he admitted. "But it is a document that in substantive ways will make the lives of people around this planet better because it puts into effect fast-start finance of $30bn; it puts into effect a plan for $100bn of long-term public and private finance." The deal was then agreed by delegates.