Muckraker: Grist on PoliticsThe Council on Foreign Relations released a new report this week on how the United States should approach foreign policy as it relates to climate change. “Confronting Climate Change: A Strategy for U.S. Foreign Policy,” as one might expect, indicates that the U.S. needs to come up with a mandatory emissions reduction plan if it wants China, India, and other rapidly developing countries to sign on to a new global pact.

“Visible U.S. leadership is essential to getting other nations, especially rapidly growing developing countries, to make significant efforts,” the authors argue in the report.

The report indicates that the U.S. needs to adopt a cap-and-trade system aiming at reductions between 60 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and that the federal government should increase funding for the development of new low-carbon technologies. They also argue that our electricity grid should be improved in order to support new energy sources.

Making these improvements at home will put the United States a better position to negotiate for a world treaty, argues the CFR “task force” that put together the report, chaired by former New York governor George Pataki and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

CFR hosted an event on Friday to unveil the new report, featuring Pataki, Vilsack, and task force director Michael Levi. Vilksack stressed the importance of the next administration in moving forward with a domestic plan. “A president or vice president should be providing daily leadership on this,” said Vilsack. “If we don’t lead, I’m concerned no one will.”

Pataki stressed the fact that many states have already adopted a cap-and-trade plan as evidence that there is the political will to take action. “The political will is there, we just need to make sure the policies are enacted,” said Pataki.

Even if the U.S. does put in place a domestic system, “ensuring that the biggest emitters meet their commitments would still be a monumental task,” the report’s authors conclude. “Even as the United States pursues ambitious and mandatory policies at home, it should not sign on to an emissions cap as part of any global deal that does not include strong commitments to actions from the major emerging economies.”

The report suggests that the U.S. form a “Partnership for Climate Cooperation,” which would bring together the world’s largest carbon-emitters, outside the United Nations process. This would include the same nations as Bush’s “Major Emitters” summits, but with different goals — as we know, Bush has long-opposed mandatory emissions cuts.

It also indicates that the “Clean Development Mechanism” created by the Kyoto Protocol to fund clean-energy projects in developing countries be vastly improved and better-targeted at nations where it could have the greatest impact.

Among the issues raised in the report that are likely to be most contentious is the idea that the U.S. should encourage rapidly developing countries to increase their use of nuclear power to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Task force member Aimee Christensen, of Christensen Global Strategies, called the support for nuclear power “unwarranted” in a dissenting statement included with the report. “The report rightly notes that this support is preconditioned on the economic competitiveness of nuclear power as well as a strong nonproliferation regime, but fails to also condition it on finding solutions for waste disposal,” she writes.

United Nations Foundation President Timothy Wirth and James Wolfensohn, chairman of the private investment firm Wolfensohn & Company and former president of the World Bank Group, submitted a joint dissent questioning the idea of a separate major emitters partnership outside of the United Nations. The two worried that it would “detract” form the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change process.