World Cries Uncle on Climate Deal

by Bill Chameides | November 16th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 14 comments

News flash from Singapore: no climate deal from Copenhagen next month.

It was one of those “duh” moments. Meeting at the summit on Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, world leaders finally admitted what most of us had concluded some time ago: the great climate confab in Copenhagen in December will not produce a comprehensive international treaty setting binding emissions targets on greenhouse gases. To quote Michael Froman, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs:

“There was an assessment by the leaders that it was unrealistic to expect a full, internationally legally binding agreement to be negotiated between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days.”

How Did This Happen?

I suppose one could point to a lot of factors, but one of the major ones has got to be the inability of the United States to pass its own climate legislation. (Obama reportedly dashed any last hopes of getting a climate bill passed this year while pledging to push legislation forward next year.)

How could we expect to get economically developing countries like China to sign on to binding emissions targets when the nation most responsible for the current burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (the USA) and the world’s largest economy (us again) would not agree to such targets?

But do not worry, we are assured; next year all will be well.

On the international side a “two step” process proposed by the Danes and endorsed by the United States would now aim for the basic architecture of a global agreement to be set at Copenhagen with a final agreement to be sealed at the meeting in Bonn scheduled for the end of 2010.

Ah, wait until next year … it sounds eerily familiar.

Just before the Democrats assumed control of Congress in January 2007, the newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised that her chamber would vote on a climate bill in time to celebrate its passage on Independence Day of that year.

Other pressing priorities — including the decision to split an energy bill from the climate bill and an inability to form a consensus — scuttled that effort. Not only did a climate bill not reach the House floor by July 2007, it never reached it during the entire session.

On the Senate side a bipartisan bill did reach the floor in June 2008 — the Warner-Lieberman bill — but it never made it to a vote because 60 votes for cloture could not be gathered.

No bill in 2007. No bill in 2008.

2009 Starts With Bang, Ends With a Whimper

But then came Election Day 2008. Remember the campaign’s rallying cry of change? January 2009 ushered in a new sense of hope, and a new way seemed possible. In control of both Houses, the Democrats had an apparent filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate (if Franken could ever get in the door), and Obama was in the White House — Obama, who had campaigned on a promise to pass comprehensive climate legislation and lead international efforts on a global treaty.

Through the spring and early summer it looked like Obama could keep his promise, as momentum on the issue grew. In June 2009 the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate bill. After that all eyes shifted to the Senate, where quick action could lead to Congressional passage followed by a flourish of Obama’s signature in time for Copenhagen in December.

While climate-change watchers waited with bated breath, the Senate, acting on Obama administration priorities, got bogged down and plowed under by partisan rancor over health care.

Now, a few months later with the holiday recess just around the corner, we get the news that had already become apparent. No U.S. climate legislation will be passed this year.

What About 2010?

It’s possible that 2010 could be the year Congress passes its first climate bill, but I am not sanguine. Why? It’s an election year. With everyone tooling up for a ballot-box fight, the little bit of bipartisanship that might have surfaced this year will be that much more difficult next year.

And after 2010? Who knows — the Democrats could lose control of a chamber or, if not that, the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority they currently enjoy. And if either of those events were to happen, it may not be “wait till next year,” it may be “wait till 2012.” Or beyond.

But There Is a Glimmer of Hope: the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

For those of use who are convinced that limiting greenhouse gas emissions is essential to our long-term well-being, the one saving grace is the Supreme Court ruling from 2007 instructing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the authority of the Clean Air Act. While not an ideal mechanism, the rules being developed by EPA will be a step in the right direction.

But one has to look back on 2009 if not with anger then with regret — this year was a lost opportunity if there ever was one. I wonder if things would have been different had Obama prioritized climate change legislation over health care legislation.

filed under: climate change, faculty, global warming, international, policy, politics
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  1. MattN
    Dec 1, 2009

    China/India/Brazil/South America plan to walk out of Copenhagen if pressured: We’re all in this together. Any agreement that does not involve EVERY nation is a waste of time….

  2. Bob Owston
    Nov 22, 2009

    I believe that the Chinese are approching the climate issue properly- they are simply going hell-bent to develope solar and wind energy industries, and they will soon be the world leader. They do not believe in cap&trade, which is a negative approach to the problem. They also are not spending a lot of time discussing the issue; they are spending a lot of time and money on solving the problem.

  3. Jim
    Nov 17, 2009

    It is a bit discouraging, but I’m hoping that the two step process that was outlined might still produce a binding treaty later next year. I am concerned that this will get dragged out and watered down over years and eventually fizzles. When climate change becomes real to people, years down the road when there is more flooding and storms, water shortages, etc. the politicians will be more motivated. Of course then it will be harder to prevent the worst.

  4. MattN
    Nov 16, 2009

    You can delay a treaty all you want, it will not make any differnce. India and China are NOT going to sign a binding agreement to reduce CO2. Not now, and not one year from now. Forget it. Without them, any agreement is simply not worth the paper it’s printed on.

    • Bill Chameides
      Nov 18, 2009

      MattN: Too bad, if you’re right. But it may not be that straightforward. If the U.S. and the E.U. were to establish emission caps and set border tariffs, it might have the same effect as having China adopt its own cap since so much of its economy depends on exports.

      • MattN
        Nov 20, 2009

        BTW, you guys should go here and read this: There has been a breech at CRU-East Anglia. 61MB of emails and data files documenting the data manipulation, threats aginst dissenting scientist and collusion is all there. This is an absolute dagger to the entire heart of the AGW-argument. The entire underlying “proof”, (ie: hockey stick) is a complete total 100% lie. Without it, there is ZERO basis to state that the 20th century was the warmest century in the last mellinia, and the 1990s the warmest decade of that mellinia. Without it, there’s nothing unusual about 20th century temps, and therefore, no cause for alarm.

        • Robert Owston
          Nov 23, 2009

 Here is an article on the subject that I read a day or two ago, more concise. If the information in the article is valid, it is not good news for the advocates. It is a shame that even our ‘scientists’ have become corrupt. However, there are two points that are true, no matter the current state of scientific studies: We ARE running out of cheap fossil fuel energy, and we ARE polluting the environment to disastrous affect. In the end, we will use every spec of oil, gas and coal as long as they are the cheapest avenue to maintaining our standard of living. Energy price spikes will become more frequent and of greater magnitude unless we smooth the transition to alternatives by taxation, with the proceeds to benefit legitimate research and development. This should be done on an individual country basis. In the end, other countries will have to do the same as we do or, eventually, buy our products. Cap&Trade, however, is massively beaurocratic, political and expensive.

        • Bill Chameides
          Nov 24, 2009

          Regarding this being an “absolute dagger to the entire heart of the AGW-argument”–hardly. I will have more to say about e-mail-gate tomorrow and next week.

          • B. Patton
            Nov 29, 2009

            The complete fall out from the CRU emails all over the internet will, in time, discedit and doom the the AGW movement. Charlatans like Ben Santer, Michael Mann, John Holdren, Keith Briffa, Al Gore, and Phil Jones will go down in history as greedy hyopcrites using junk science to make millions. Much like their mentor, Paul Erlich. One would think that the the 60’s “population bomb” would give these alarmists pause before esposing their “chicken little” the sky is falling hysteria.

            • Bill Chameides
              Dec 3, 2009

              B. Patton: “Make millions” doing science?

    • Bill Chameides
      Nov 24, 2009

      MattN: Leaving the issue of the CRU hack alone, even if the “hockey stick” is totally wrong, that in no way invalidates the conclusion that much of the warming over the past few decades is due to anthropogenic causes – that is based on contemporary data.

      • MattN
        Nov 26, 2009

        I respectfully disagree. No one outside of climate science cared about AGW until Mann’s hockey stick, because until then, there was ZERO evidence that the 20th century was warmer than the Mideival Warm Period. And if the 20th century was no warmer than the MWP, than 20th century warming is not outside the natural variability seen in the climate record (ice cores, sediments, etc). The hockey stick was the moment that it became front page news. From that day, virtually all temperature reconstruction has been centered around supporting the hockey stick theory. These emails, data files, and program code show unequivocally how precarious the science supporting the hockey stick was/is. Without the hockey stick, the 20th century is no warmer than the MWP, and therefore not outside the natural variation of the planets climate cycles. No one argues that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas. No one argues that the 20th century hasn’t warmed. We argue the amount of warming attributed to it and whether it’s necessary to do anything about it. Bankrupting the world’s largest economies for a non-issue is rediculous. The hockey stick is a fraud. Plain and simple. Read the emails/code. Without it, and significant portion of climate science over the past 10 years is voided. You can no longer say the 20th century is warmer than the MWP. You just can’t…

        • Bill Chameides
          Dec 3, 2009

          MattN: I can’t say what people outside of climate science cared about — you may be right. But I can tell you what I thought and think. I remained unconvinced about AGW until the early 2000s — well after Mann’s hockey stick came about. What convinced me was detailed analysis of ocean-heat content that showed that the ocean was not the source of heat causing rising global temperatures. The only logical possibility left was GHGs. And be careful of ignoratio elenchis (also known as red herrings). Just because there was a MWP as a result of natural causes does not mean that the current warming is due to natural causes.

    • Bob Owston
      Nov 26, 2009

      “China pledged it would cut its carbon intensity, the measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP, by 40 per cent to 45 per cent compared to 2005 levels.” From an article in the

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