2009: The year so many met so often to talk so much about the perilous state of the climate — and as of September, accomplished so little. Will this week be the charm?
During several different international meetings this year, nations have been getting into position for this December’s international climate treaty talks in Copenhagen.
This week, they’re all gathering again. On Tuesday, the U.N. is holding a day-long Climate Summit (alongside its annual, two-week General Assembly) in New York City. And on Thursday and Friday, the Group of 20 (G20) leading world economies is gathering in Pittsburgh, its third meeting of the year to deal with the global economic meltdown.
While climate is not formally on the G20’s agenda, some are hoping that President Obama will come off his speech at the New York event ready to signal to other world leaders that the U.S. will lead on forging a strong replacement to the Kyoto Protocol treaty to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, which expires in 2013. Its successor is supposed to be largely finalized at December’s global-warming talks.
How likely is Obama to do that? As the Magic 8-Ball might say, “Reply hazy; try again.”
Candidate Obama made strong climate action a central plank of his election platform. President Obama has taken some pragmatic steps to make good on those promises, such as naming a climate-savvy team to key environment- and energy-related posts. Obama also backed the massive funding within the stimulus bill for home-weatherization programs, clean energy research and development, expansion of rail transit, and other on-the-ground moves toward a low-carbon energy economy. And he spent a smidge of political capital to help get the House climate and energy bill passed in June.
On the international negotiating front, however, the Obama administration may be hamstrung by sluggish Senate progress on passing climate legislation. Senate leaders keep pushing back the timetable for action on a bill, with Majority Leader Harry Reid suggesting last week that it could be bumped all the way to next year. Republicans are almost universally opposed to a cap-and-trade system for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, and many moderate Democrats aren’t enthusiastic about cap-and-trade either.
If the Senate doesn’t pass a climate bill by early December, U.S. influence in Copenhagen may well be diminished, though if the EPA takes action to regulate greenhouse gases with its existing authority, that could give the Obama administration something to take the table.
Meanwhile, the administration is working toward a bilateral climate agreement, which could circumvent the Kyoto treaty framework. Where the world’s two greatest greenhouse-gas polluters lead, the rest of the world will probably have to follow, no matter how strong or weak the results may be.
Climate activists are not going to let this week’s gatherings of nations pass without a demonstration — or even several thousand demonstrations, all around the world — to show global public demand for a strong international climate treaty. So there’s a heavy schedule of (hoped-for) flash mobs, protests, call-to-arms film screenings, and other events in both New York City and Pittsburgh.
Through its Voices Project, the international aid group Oxfam and allies are helping a number of non-mainstream-media reporters and bloggers (including this reporter-blogger) to attend the Climate Summit; get face time with big names in climate policy, politics, and activism; and cover the G20 from a perspective that puts global warming front and center, instead of off to the side of the recession or global trade policy.
So, let’s set the scene: Coming into this week’s meetings, the U.S. and 16 other of the world’s largest emitters have already made a commitment (at July’s Major Economies Forum in Italy) to hold global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. They also reiterated a goal from last year of “achieving at least a 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050,” with industrialized nations slashing their greenhouse-gas pollution by 80 percent. But as of yet, the 17 nations have made no formal plan for how to get to any of these milestones.
Will this week’s events help break through the logjam? Stay tuned as we find out.