US Reluctance Looms Large Over International Climate Events


Photo via Raw Story

This month is absolutely packed with vital talks, summits, and meetings between the world's most important climate players. Climate Week just kicked off in New York City, and the Clinton Global Initiative begins tomorrow. Then the G20 summit in Pittsburgh gets underway, where climate policy is sure to be a focus of discussion. Heads of state from around the world and the most prominent climate action advocates are pushing for a unified treaty to succeed Kyoto in Copenhagen this December. But there's one major shadow looming over the proceedings: the US, the country that's hosting all of these events, again appears reluctant to undertake significant climate policy.Most of those signals are coming from the Senate, where the climate debate has been stalled as the focus shifted to health care reform. This is sending the message to other nations that US domestic policy trumps global concerns.

When a reporter asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid what the chances were of passing climate legislation before the Copenhagen talks take place, he replied (via Green Inc)

"So, you know, we are going to have a busy, busy time the rest of this year," Mr. Reid replied. "And, of course, nothing terminates at the end of this year. We still have next year to complete things if we have to."
Not encouraging. Many in the international community see it as vital that the US pass climate legislation at home before heading to the table at Copenhagen--lest concerns linger about a repeat of Kyoto in 1997, where pledges were made that were then rejected by Congress before the treaty could even be submitted for ratification.

John Burton, the ambassador to the US from the European Union, sums up the concern as follows (via Green Inc):

"It is suggested that the U.S. Senate may not, after all, deal with the climate change issue until next year, when the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen is over and the delegates have gone home," Mr. Bruton said. "If this were to happen, it would open the United States to the charge that it does not take its international commitments seriously and that these commitments will always take second place to domestic politics."
And then: "Is the U.S. Senate really expecting all the other countries to make a serious effort on climate change at the Copenhagen Conference in the absence of a clear commitment from the United States?"

Of course, he's right--other countries would be perfectly justified in questioning the US's commitment to making real emissions reductions if we head to Copenhagen without a bill passed. Which would then be a severe impediment for real international progress on climate action--armed only with the good graces of the Obama administration, how is the US, the nation responsible for more CO2 emissions than any other, going to spur other countries into reducing theirs? The entire talks could fall limp barring the passage of some kind of a climate bill in the Senate this year.

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