Today, when President Obama steps to the podium at the United Nations to address climate change, many world leaders hope that the president will make new commitments to curb carbon emissions. “We want world leaders to show they understand the gravity of climate risks, as well as the benefits of acting now,” says U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the Wall Street Journal. “We want them to publicly commit to sealing a deal in Copenhagen . . . to give their negotiating teams marching orders to accelerate progress toward . . . an ambitious global climate agreement.”
About 190 nations will meet in Copenhagen in December to set new emissions-reduction targets for industrialized countries that will replace the expiring targets set by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. did not ratify. With the Copenhagen talks looming, President Obama’s speech will be judged on many levels.
As the New York Times reports:
The Obama administration is trying to satisfy European demands for firm targets and timetables, while reassuring a wary Senate that it is not signing on to a system that would impose steep economic costs on the United States that are not shared by developing countries like China and India.
Although the administration and its allies in Congress say they are deeply committed to meaningful action on climate change, they do not want to repeat the experience of Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, when the Clinton administration signed an international agreement that was repudiated by the Senate because it made few demands on the developing world. The United States never ratified the agreement, called the Kyoto Protocol.
The Europeans say a bill passed by the House in June showed American goodwill but still fell short of the European target and what scientists say is necessary to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius over the planet’s temperature early in the Industrial Revolution, which means limiting future changes to about 2 degrees Fahrenheit above current temperatures. This limit is the internationally accepted goal.
Regardless of European enthusiasm, the mood in Congress is not so breathless. Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner says that he’ll just be hoping that the president “doesn’t make a campaign speech.”
“I’m interested in what he says, but he can’t give a campaign speech at the U.N. like he did to Congress on health care,” Sensenbrenner, the top Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, tells NRO. Sensenbrenner, who was also a congressional representative to the Kyoto negotiations in 1997, worries that President Obama may make stumble in trying to make a grand statement rather than smart policy.
“I’m a veteran of the climate-change wars,” says Sensenbrenner. “In 1997, Al Gore was pushing for the Kyoto Protocol. It failed. The negotiations in Copenhagen later this year are designed to replace Kyoto. My fear is that President Obama will sign any treaty on the table. The devil is in the details. If Obama signs up to a treaty that has binding commitments for reductions below 1990 levels, while allowing China and India to grow at unchecked rates, it will wreck our economy.”
President Obama will not be the only world leader speaking at today’s summit. Chinese president Hu Jintao is also expected to make a major address on climate change. “The real key issue,” says Sensenbrenner, “is if there’s a change in China’s position in how it counts its emissions.”
Sensenbrenner, who traveled to China this spring with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and met with Hu Jintao, says he remains wary about any new Chinese climate policy, especially if it involves the United States helping to pay for any carbon offset.
“When we met with the Chinese, they said they would cut their growth rate of emissions based upon a certain percentage of GDP. The Chinese GDP is expected to grow, and in May the Chinese expected to cut back on GDP. So the Chinese are not only going to be demanding that we cut back on our emissions, but that we help pay them for the offset to help meet this latest demand. This is unrealistic,” says Sensenbrenner. “There will have to be a major change in the Chinese attitude to indicate progress being made. The Chinese will also have to drop their demand for a huge amount of foreign aid to be put into the U.N. to help them with this, and they will have to promise to protect the intellectual property rights of those who are developing new green technology.”
If the president does signal a move towards a new Kyoto-type agreement today, Sensenbrenner tells us he’s confident that House and Senate Republicans can effectively articulate their opposition. “As I said at the time, Kyoto was unilateral economic disarmament, and the times were fairly good in 1997. They’re not good now, they’re worse. Unilateral disarmament is bad, both when it comes to the military and the economy.”
“Our strategy will be to zero in on the economics of it all, how devastating cap-and-tax is,” says Sensenbrenner. “Kyoto was negotiated before China and India became tigers. Now we’re talking about wealth transfers with the billions that each is demanding. The economic dynamics here are much different then they were between 1995 and 1997. Our European friends seem to think Copenhagen can be the son of Kyoto, and that they can get an economic advantage this time around. Yet when you talk about cap-and-trade, you only shift where emissions come from and pay people to emit more. That’s why it’s flawed, and should be put in the wastebasket.”
Any treaty that Obama signs will head to the U.S. Senate. There, any document will probably get bogged down, for many of the reasons listed by Sensenbrenner. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is not optimistic, saying earlier this month that the Senate might delay a vote on climate legislation until next year. A spokesman for Reid later clarified that the measure could still come to the floor by year end.