Congress, Carbon, And Compromise

Posted on behalf of Abbie Gruwell, a political science major at the University of Iowa: Time is running out for substantive negotiations at Copenhagen. My second day here saw virtually no movement on the U.S. position and continuing frustration on all fronts. The G-77 walk-out yesterday sent a strong message that a clear binding commitment is extremely unlikely by the end of the week. China, India, and South Korea's inclusion in the walk-out made the issue even more complicated. Because of their demand for adaptation assistance, the financing debate is deadlocked. The African nations and small island countries have a viable argument for climate financing from the developed world, but there is no way the U.S. Congress would support sending money to China, India, and South Korea for climate change adaptation. These countries are still supporting the continuation of Kyoto, and the U.S. is not budging on their emissions targets. It seems that everyone has their scapegoat - the E.U. says they will commit to 30% reductions if the U.S. does, and the U.S. won't commit to anything unless China is subject to a verification system. Hopefully the word of the week will be compromise, not disappointment. I spent today outside of the Bella Centre quagmire and had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion hosted by the PEW Center and the Environmental Defense Fund with several policy and legislative aides to four U.S. congressmen. Michael Goo with Chairman Markey, Mark Helmke, Joe Shultz with Senator Brown, and Trent Bauserman with Senator Shaheen all gave their opinions on the effect of Copenhagen on the current Senate bill. One of the most potent discussion points was on the debilitating public opinion situation at home - Helmke and Shultz noted that the acceptance of climate change has gone down 42 points in the last year because of the domestic economic situation and argued that political messaging was the problem. Communication has been the biggest problem in convincing the American public to get on board, and the Senate aides recognized that the lack of clarity would need to be addressed before Congress would have the constituent support to pass the climate bill. The panel also discussed the provisions for the moderate Dems to get on board, including assurance that jobs would come from the clean energy push, an amendment that addressed carbon leakage, and a long-term commitment to ensure competitiveness for U.S. companies. We also had a brief Presidential-address moment - an Australian audience member called out "bulls***" during a comment about the U.S.'s response to the tsunami. Apparently inappropriate outbursts aren't just an American epidemic. Finally, the carbon and energy discussions have been optimistic - yesterday's most interesting session was a speech by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. He announced plans for Climate-REDI, a new partnership between developed and developing nations including India, Australia, Italy, and the U.S. (among others) that will encourage high-efficiency technology, health-friendly replacements for stoves that cause COPD and other lung diseases, funds that will encourage game-changing technologies, and a clean energy information initiative. Chu's critical but enthusiastic presentation of the U.S.'s plans for energy reduction was a bright spot in the cloudiness of negotiations. If Chu's plans come to fruition, the United States will emerge as a leader in energy reduction technology and be able to fund the distribution of these energies in places like rural India (the first recipient of the Climate-REDI funds). At least part of our administration gets the picture.

Author: Jerry Schnoor

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