Mr. President, come to Copenhagen early
I wish every American could get lost for a few days in the Bella Conference Center and the events surrounding it in Copenhagen. I wish you could all see and feel the desperate depth of the world’s hunger for America to step all the way up to its responsibilities here.
And since at least one more of us will be here – the one who stoked your hopes; the one who just earned the first prospective Nobel Peace Prize in affirmation of the world’s urgent need for American leadership – I address this request to him.
Mr. President, please come early. Arrive incognito. You need to see this before you decide what you will say on Friday.
Just wander around the Bella Center. See if you can grab coffee with Ian Fry, lead negotiator for tiny Tuvalu, which electrified the first week of the negotiations with its courageous stand for a binding, science-based agreement. By raising the oceans over small island nations, the developed world is throwing them overboard. (See the Maldives’ underwater press conference.) But they aren’t just asking you to toss them a life preserver. They want to be full partners in the global rescue plan. (See Maldives President Nasheed Mohamed’s unforgettable speech.)
Today, you missed the Bright Green Expo which showcased the emergence of an “entirely new model of economic growth” – as your Commerce Secretary envisioned in his speech last week. That new economy is bursting out all over Copehagen – bikes, windmills, solar panels, electric cars, great transit, technology exhibits everywhere – and many of its pioneers are on hand in the Bella Center. They are so ready.
You also missed the church service that brought Bill McKibben, briefly, to tears. But Bill went to back to work quickly; he’ll be here too, and you really should make it a point to talk with him and his relentless crew, which helped organize the huge march and rally here yesterday.
And if you only have time for one thing, go to a planning meeting of the youth organizers here in Copenhagen. Soak up their determination. Work with them as they come up with a thousand plucky and creative ways to make their appeal to the real you later in the week. Imagine Sasha and Malia among them.
Then on Thursday, re-emerge as you – the candidate who called us to higher ground, the world leader we elected you to be — and change the game on the two big issues at the core of this conference and on which the fate of the world rests:
1. Science-based emission reductions. Legal, political, economic, institutional, psychological and other complexities and obstacles abound. But all of those things are our creations. They can be changed by humans. The climate’s response just is what it is – not perfectly understood, but non-negotiable. 350 parts per million is where – in the best approximation of our best minds – nature has drawn the line. Counter-offers will not move her.
So, what can you do, Mr. President, to lead the world to nature’s bottom line? Commit America to the cause. Yes, you must deliver Congress in order to follow through on this commitment. But don’t try to deliver them by staying under the low ceiling that our broken politics imposes on their vision, because that ceiling is way below nature’s best and final offer. Don’t deliver them by accepting Mr. Sensenbrenner’s revisionist history of Kyoto; the problem wasn’t that Gore went too far, it was – and still is – that Congress never stepped up.
Don’t go down to them. Lead them up. Deliver them by reaching higher and inspiring us to follow, as you did when you were campaigning for our votes. If you do, we will hold Congress, and you, accountable for getting it done.
I’m not going to lay down an emission reduction timetable or a gameplan here – my point is not to stake out an interest group position. I’m appealing to you — the guy who was in Oslo last week for a good reason — to do what is right and necessary this week, before it’s too late.
2. Long-term financing. This may be the piece of this complex puzzle that could unlock the rest, the issue with the greatest potential for a breakthrough. Your negotiators have acknowledged our responsibility to support the developing world in adapting to climate changes we have caused and building a low-carbon path to greater prosperity. But they have bared their teeth at the concept of “climate debt” and deferred serious discussion of specific long-term financial commitments, for fear of the domestic politics. Their public push for “fast-track” financing is a start, but it can’t be the end of this week’s progress. Since they are negotiating long-term emission reduction commitments, short-term financing alone won’t wash.
There are signs of movement. Your team is working hard to build the institutional infrastructure to manage this financing effectively. We hope they are laying the groundwork for a serious financial commitment, because nothing less will do. Intriguing ideas about major new sources of such financing are incubating in the Bella Center: George Soros’ proposal to tap $100 billion in special drawing rights; allowance revenues from bunker fuels for shipping; and a tax on the enormous volume of international financial transactions as France has proposed.
Another intriguing source of climate finance could bring in about $57 billion annually (according to this 2004 WRI paper written by Jonathan Pershing, your chief climate negotiator): ending fossil fuel subsidies in developed countries and using the savings to finance low-carbon development. This one’s a potent climate twofer: we’d get very significant results both by removing the subsidies and by investing the proceeds in clean development.
The International Energy Agency and OECD estimate the emission reductions from removing fossil fuel subsidies at about 10% by 2050. If you use the proceeds from eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in the developed world to finance clean development, the money would do double-duty: Stop funding the problem; start funding solutions.
$57 billion annually would go a long way toward meeting the need, which is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually (in, for example, the Stern Review). $100 billion per year by 2020 is the working objective for Copenhagen set by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer.
The scale of climate finance is critical – the $10 billion a year or so on the table now is an order of magnitude too low. But it’s also important to ensure that it is fairly and faithfully delivered. The World Bank – which stubbornly continues to finance fossil-fueled development – is not qualified for the job. The global South must have a substantial role in the governance of climate finance, and it must occur under the auspices of the climate treaty.
I’m sure your team is coming up with other great ideas for funding sources. But it’s up to you to seal the deal late next week – not every last detail, but the scale of the commitment, and the promise to deliver on it.
Yes, domestic political opponents will squeal. But Americans understand fairness. And our most generous moments on the international stage – like the Marshall Plan, which ushered in decades of security – have been among our strongest moments.
Mr. President, if you could come tomorrow as I suggest, I believe you would be inspired to do this. I’ll look at each person I pass in the Bella Center and wonder if that’s you in your disguise….walking in the shoes of one of the thousands of hopeful, desperate, determined faces in this building.
Even if you don’t come, I’ll see you in their eyes.
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