December 07, 2009
Treaty Conference on Climate Change Opens in Copenhagen
by Robert Kropp
While prospects for signing of an international agreement seem delayed until next year, hopes for
progress increase with rescheduling of Obama's participation and involvement of China and India.
Hopes for substantial international agreement on climate change have certainly ebbed and flowed in
the months leading up to today's opening of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen. In
the US alone, the optimism generated by June's passage of the Waxman-Markey bill has been tempered
by the Senate's slow pace in considering its version of climate change legislation.
Fearing that many economic opportunities presented
by a transition to a low-carbon economy could be lost if the Senate continues to delay taking
action on climate change legislation, Business
for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), along with seven major utility companies, has
expressed "concerns about the potential delay in moving legislation forward in the Senate."
opening remarks, Connie Hedegaard, the COP15 conference president, said, "This is our chance. If we
miss it, it could take years before we got a new and better one. If ever."
Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a
coalition of investors that serves as the coordinator for BICEP, said, "The message from these
respected businesses is clear: Put a price on carbon and get the rules right. The cost of policy
inaction is too high."
While the Senate continues to deliberate, President Obama, whose
grasp of the economic opportunities presented by climate change was demonstrated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act, changed the timing of his arrival in Copenhagen in order to maximize the impact of his
As reported last week, President Obama had originally planned to attend
the talks on December 9, instead of at the close of them, when many world leaders had committed to
attend. But on December 4, the White House issued a statement that read in part, "the President
believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end
of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th rather than on December 9th."
to attend the talks in Copenhagen is Republican Senator James Inhofe, who has in the past derided
climate science as a "hoax" and is leading Republican efforts to undermine meaningful climate
change legislation. In a recent interview about his planned attendance, Inhofe said, "I wanted to
make sure that countries were fully informed that we are not going to be passing legislation that
will accomplish what President Obama I believe is going to tell."
One of the primary
arguments used by opponents of Congressional climate change legislation has been that without
meaningful commitments to emissions reduction targets by major developing nations such as China and
India, the US would be left at an economic disadvantage. Opponents have continued to advance this
argument despite numerous economic models that report the likelihood of increased net revenue from
the deployment of low-carbon technologies.
Furthermore, the argument that major developing
economies would be getting a free ride was undermined by China's recent announcement that it would
decrease emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020. And following China's announcement, India
said that it would reduce its emissions by 20-25% below 2005 levels by 2020.
countries announced targets despite the fact that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change does not at present
require such targets from developing nations. And China has been emphatic in describing its targets
as voluntary, while India has said, "There is simply no compromise on India's national interest."
Of course, the US targets that Obama will bring to Copenhagen cannot be described as a
commitment either, until the Senate passes binding legislation.
Concerns over ensuring "a
level playing field for US companies and workers" persist even among moderate Democrats who have
not yet committed to supporting the Senate's version of climate change legislation. In a lette
r submitted to Obama on December 3, ten Senate Democrats, led by Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania,
detailed ten principles for international cooperation on climate change, that, they said, "should
direct US climate policy."
Addressing what they perceive to be potential economic
inequities, the Senators wrote, "Any new US climate change laws should establish a national system
of border adjustments," which would impose tariffs on imports from countries that fail to meet
agreed-upon reduction targets.
Following passage of Waxman-Markey in June, Obama said, "At
a time when the economy worldwide is still deep in recession and we’ve seen a significant drop in
global trade, I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals out
But despite the letter's hints of trade protectionism, it does seem to provide a
framework for agreement between the Senators—five of whom were identified as "fence-sitters" in a
and Energy Daily—and the Administration in crafting effective climate change legislation. With the
likelihood that any binding international agreement will not occur until next year, perhaps the
Senate will have time to wrap up its deliberations and pass legislation in advance of a global
treaty, after all.
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