World Cries Uncle on Climate Deal
by Bill Chameides | November 16th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)
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
and: Barack Obama, greenhouse gas emissions, legislation, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Congress, UNFCCC, United States