Looking for Joy in Climateville

by Bill Chameides | December 17th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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Joe Lieberman and two Senate colleagues are devising an out-of-this-world climate bill, while Hugo Chavez suggests that some might be considering a move to another planet.
Joe Lieberman and two Senate colleagues are devising an out-of-this-world climate bill, while Hugo Chavez suggests that some might be considering a move to another planet.

While rancor and tumult seem the rule in Copenhagen, three senators are working on a climate compromise that promises to make everyone happy.

“Most of the news from Copenhagen,” reads an editorial in today’s New York Times, “is grim.” And with the exception of progress on a deal on REDD, a program to slow the rate of deforestation (possibly including peatlands), it’s hard to disagree.

The Two Kings of Emissions at Loggerheads

There’s no way to craft a meaningful international climate deal without the United States and China on-board, and the chances of that occurring in these final days of the climate talks in Copenhagen now seem remote.

At the moment, the delegates from the two countries are in finger-pointing mode. The American negotiators have refused to make significant commitments without all major emitters (including China, of course) participating in a way that, as President Obama put it, leads to “immediate operational effect.” Verification of any treaty agreement is also a major issue for the United States. Explained Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“It would be hard to imagine, speaking for the United States, that there could be [a] legal or financial commitment … in the absence of transparency from the second biggest emitter, and now the I guess the first biggest.” That reference to “second biggest” … oops “first biggest” is a Clinton finger pointer at China, don’t you think?

China on the other hand is refusing to commit to emission targets that can be verified internationally and is unhappy with the U.S. proposal to cut its emissions (based on 2005 levels) by 17 percent by 2020.

And in a bizarre twist of international politics, China, with almost two thirds of its $2.1 trillion reserve in greenbacks, is posing as a leader of the Group of 77, a self-selected group of 130 developing countries pointing their fingers at the United States and other developed countries. (And by the way, if you’re wondering why a group that’s 130 strong calls itself “77,” it’s historical. Check here.)

Poor vs. Rich

While we’re on the subject of the Group of 77 — talk about rancor. The world’s have-not nations want the developed nations to do something about the planet’s climate legacy bequeathed by the developed nations — well not just something, but something big. The G-77 want:

  • major emission cuts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees (a tall order by the way, especially if China does not cut its emissions) and
  • dollars from the developed world (not just aid to help them lower their own emissions and adapt to climate change but also reparations for the climate damage the West has already wrought). They are outraged at the $10 billion aid package floated at the talks, an admittedly rather paltry amount given the magnitude of the problem.

The breaking news this morning was the U.S. secretary of state’s announcement that the United States is behind upping the package to $100 billion by 2020, but with a proviso or two — China must agree “to be monitored to ensure it is abiding by its pledge to reduce emissions, as well as other conditions.”

Move to Another Planet

The Group of 77 has made their unhappiness known — walking out of the conference, refusing to take part in key negotiations, and, according to the New York Times, raising procedural objections to negotiating text.

Yesterday at the Bella Center in Copenhagen leaders from the Group of 77 had some pretty harsh things to say about the Western developed nations.

I listened to a speech by Bolivian President Evo Morales whose list of complaints about the West requiring climate reparations included the Spanish conquest of the South America in the 16th century. No question that as the first indigenous Bolivian president, he has a valid beef, but is it germane at a climate negotiation?

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president Americans love to hate, was quoted as saying: “The rich are destroying the planet. Perhaps they think they’re going off to another planet after they’ve destroyed this one.”

Actually Chavez’s “another planet” idea is not all that wild. In today’s edition of Nature scientists announce the discovery of a new planet with loads of water — the molecule we believe is essential for life. There are a few details to work out before all of the citizens of the rich countries blast off to our new home: the planet is 40 light-years away and it “is probably cloaked in a crushingly dank and dark fog of superheated steam and other gases.”

So which will prove more difficult — getting an international climate agreement or transporting rich Earthlings to a planet 40 light-years away?

All Not Lost – Progress on a U.S. ‘Climate Bill’

Meanwhile back home, work on a Senate climate bill continues. Senators John Kerry (MA), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Joe Lieberman (CT) have formed a bi-partisan triumvirate (Democrat, Republican, and space cadet … I mean Independent) to hammer out a compromise “climate blueprint.” The framework for the blueprint is described in a four-page summary [pdf] that the triumvirate sent to President Obama in an open letter in advance of his departure to Copenhagen.

The framework promises to be truly groundbreaking. Somehow the senators have figured out a way to craft a climate bill that will make everyone — even the purveyors of fossil fuels — jump for joy. Here’s Senator Graham waxing enthusiastic about their initiative:

“I need the coal companies to say that clean coal provisions will not only not put us out of business, but actually increase the value of coal in America. And I’m going to need the oil and gas industry to say that the oil and gas drilling provisions are meaningful, will add to our inventory and make us more energy independent, and it’s good business.” (from E&E News Daily, $ub req’d.)

Wow, we’re going to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while increasing profits for the coal, oil, and gas industries. Seems as if those senators are really aiming to knock one out of the park. Let’s hope they don’t strike out because if they do, there really will be no joy in climateville.

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