The blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania may have more to say about the prospects of global warming treaties than the 1,000-plus delegates meeting at the behest of the United Nations this week in Bangkok, Thailand.
The meeting, while necessary, is about as unsexy as it gets: building on the framework agreed to in much-ballyhooed December talks in Bali, Indonesia, and filling out an agenda for later talks, leading up to the real deal in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.
Meanwhile, a key to the success of any international treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol is the next U.S. president. While China has overtaken the United States as the world's greatest polluter of greenhouse gases, the U.S. remains a prolific producers of carbon dioxide, and its leadership as the world's superpower is needed to achieve real and lasting results.
"One of the main challenges for negotiators over the next 21 months will be reintroducing the United States into a global system of emissions reductions," as Reuters puts it. "The November presidential election will come roughly halfway through the negotiations, and many here believe negotiators will defer tough decisions until a new president is inaugurated. The American public also appears more aware of the issue of warming now than at the start of the Bush administration."
All three candidates likely to end up in the White House Republican John McCain or Democrats Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama have said they support a new international strategy and new national caps on carbon dioxide emissions. Obama and Hillary have stated more explicit and aggressive goals than McCain; McCain has been an early and outspoken proponent of a national cap-and-trade system for regulating carbon for about six years.
Of course, global warming has hardly been an issue in an election dominated by the War in Iraq and, more recently, the sorry state of the economy. Voters ought to be reminded that the next president will play a pivotal role on the world stage relative to the most important environmental issue of our time. Perhaps of all time.
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