Scaled-back agreement still viewed as a success?

by Kyle Ash

November 18, 2009

I think the administration may be winning, based on some press lately, with their goal to: lower popular expectations significantly and make Copenhagen appear a success even if it violates what the international community agreed to accomplish by Copenhagen.

Recently, President Obama and President Hu of China jointly declared that they "agree on the importance" of carrying through on the Bali Action Plan (BAP). The BAP set all parties on 2-year path to a real agreement with real numbers. Those two years are up in Copenhagen. However, Obama has recently stated his support for delaying an agreement in Copenhagen.

Now we hear from Capitol Hill not just that ‘US Congress may not finish by Copenhagen,’ but that the ‘Senate will punt until the Spring’ and ‘Kerry says climate comes after [not just] health care, [but now] financial reform.’ For many reasons, such as that 2010 is going to be a tough election year, this translates to… the US Congress very likely will not pass a climate bill before 2011, by the next scheduled climate meeting in Mexico.

If Obama is waiting for Congress, will his international climate strategy be the same next year? Will he try to lower expectations for Mexico, so it doesn’t seem like the US contributed to its failure? Answers to these questions, of course, rely on the president’s willingness to invest his time and energy in achieving effective climate policy. But not knowing if that will happen, the question for Copenhagen is how to get a result that prevents a repeat of this US procrastination strategy.

I am starting to wonder if Obama will engage in a serious public campaign on climate before 2011, if even then. We should have seen some hint of this by now. His stated goal for US emissions reductions was actually worse than what the Congress is considering. He has supported a 2020 deadline of getting the US back to 1990 levels of emissions, when the world started to seriously discuss climate change. From the perspective of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this goal by Obama is to do nothing. We should be reducing about 40% from 1990, not 0%.

In the joint declaration by Obama and Hu, it was sadly apparent which delegation drafted which sentences on carbon sequestration and on nuclear energy. The few public comments from Obama have included endorsement of both of these non-solutions.  We hope President Obama will listen to President Hu and abandon efforts that benefit industry instead of renewable energy solutions that harmonize with goals for a healthy economy and environment.

If we cannot get the BAP fulfilled with any poignance, maybe we can get a pre-launch type of agreement that counts down to a lift-off no later than Mexico. And somehow the US should be given a spanking for not doing its chores (corporal punishment is still normal in many parts of the US). Perhaps that involves a second commitment period for Kyoto, in other words the rest of the world moves forward while the US is an outsider. But the spanking must include thwarting any notion that the US has been a wise and moral leader on climate policy.

Click on some relevant articles below from the last week:

Obama calls for climate pact with ‘immediate’ effect

Obama must be more engaged on climate change: Greenpeace

U.S. weighs backing interim international climate agreement


Kyle Ash

By Kyle Ash

Kyle Ash formerly served as Greenpeace's Legislative Policy Expert, responsible for domestic and international climate change policy analysis and campaign strategy. He has been quoted in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, and CNN, and was one of the most frequently quoted sources during the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.