When a few members of U.S. Congress come to Bali next week to meet with delegations from all round the world, they’ll have something in hand: a first step in the direction of climate change legislation from the U.S.

35mpg fuel economy standards and 15% renewable energy requirements from utilities may not seem like all that much, but for the rest of the world’s leaders, who have been holding their collective breath, it’s a twitch of life from a government long considered dead on the issue of global warming. The halls of the Bali Convention Center are abuzz with talk of a number of bills going through the U.S. Congress — delegates and NGO folk alike know the importance of including the United States in the post-Kyoto process.

Even the U.S. delegation, with Harlan Watson at the helm, seems to be changing its tune a little bit. No longer the overtly obstructionist, it is hoping to "reach agreement on a Bali roadmap," said Watson in an informal meeting. "We want to get there," he added.

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Of course, all is not well at the negotiating table. The United States refuses to budge on setting emissions targets, and continues to advocate the "two track" approach (distinguishing those countries that don’t want binding targets — namely the U.S. — and those that do).

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Meanwhile, the rest of the world crutches onwards, debating the specific policy mechanisms needed to make Kyoto and any post-Kyoto treaty efficient and comprehensive.

A few messages resonate above the wonkery and chatter:

  1. Kyoto is broken, and needs fixing.
  2. A post-Kyoto agreement must be equitable and all-inclusive.
  3. Without the United States taking a leadership role, it lets other countries off the hook.

Next week will help prove to the world that even if the executive branch is dragging its heels in addressing global warming, Americans are widely in support of tough measures that coincide with the gravity of the problem.

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