Keeping Tabs on our Neighbor to the North

I’m definitely not in the South anymore. Walking to the bus on my first day of my internship at the Natural Resources Defense Council, someone almost backed into me with their pickup truck and then proceeded to swear at me. It’s a dog eat dog world in our nation’s capital! But then I rode by a string of embassies of exotic, far-flung countries and felt inspired and happy again. To be in such an important place, where different professions and nationalities come together to build and influence policy for the United States and much of the world, is exhilarating. I can’t wait to absorb as much as I can during my summer months here.

My first day at NRDC started with a tour of the beautiful offices on 15th and M Street, blocks away from the White House in Washington, DC. From the start, my boss – Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director – exhibited utmost interest in my professional and personal development and made sure that I was going to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities that DC has to offer, from conferences to rallies at the Senate to networking happy hours for young environmental professionals. We went out to lunch and had delicious Korean BBQ from a food truck in Farragut Square. I asked Jake about his career path in environmental policy – he worked at the Center for Clean Air Policy prior to NRDC – and we talked about my projects for the summer.

Right now, all eyes are on the 21st Congress of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. My central task will be to write “Issue Papers” on the developed countries, analyzing their progress towards the targets agreed to at the last COP in Copenhagen 2009. Sadly, one of the world’s major emitters, Canada, is projected to miss its target by a long shot, due to tar sands development in Alberta. My #1 job right now is to research and write the piece for Canada, drawing attention to the role of tar sands in causing Canada to miss its targets. It was doing great for a while, with ambitious plans for renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency improvements, and regulations for coal-fired electricity generation. These projects have been steadily going MIA due to the current administration’s (led by Prime Minister Harper) lackluster devotion to climate change policy. Harper has made it clear that the Copenhagen targets are not sacrosanct, and Canada’s foremost priority is to remain competitive with U.S energy. On a positive note, the U.S. is actually on track to meet its target, as we are addressing our biggest source of GHG emissions, coal, with new power plant standards being announced by the administration in June. So, the hope is to make it clear that Canada cannot use its southern neighbor as a crutch. President Obama’s current administration, especially with the leadership of John Podesta and John Kerry, is heavily focused on climate change. The environmental community has a unique opportunity to raise attention on climate change at a national level, highlight the international implications of Canada’s inaction, and pressure our administration to convince Canada to switch tracks.

Hopefully this time around the climate change negotiations will be different, and instead of sticking our heads in the sand the U.S. will send a strong signal to the rest of the world that it is serious about implementing climate policy with binding targets and corresponding timelines. Because, for better or for worse, the international community watches us closely — sometimes with suspicion, sometimes for leadership — and expects us to put our money where our mouth is.