Campaigners from 20 countries converge on Copenhagen to demand climate justice. (Friends of the Earth International)
Do you keep your promises? Well, so do I. But nations are notoriously bad at it. Hitler said in the Munich Agreement that he'd be content with Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland, and the Native Americans signed 370 treaties with the U.S. government between 1778 and 1871, most of which whites broke.
Despite the dismal history, however, the international community has just put a host of greenhouse reduction efforts on the table. And according to Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) now in Copenhagen, if the 17 largest economies "commit to all of the policies for carbon-pollution reduction they have on the table now, the world will have reached 65% of the emissions reductions required by 2020 to stop human-caused temperature increase at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels."
I know that sounds kind of technical, but it means we could possibly, maybe avoid the worst effects of global warming, which we know as dramatically rising sea levels, disappearing beaches, lost biodiversity (the extinction of the polar bear in the wild by 2050 is just one consequence), coral bleaching, increased droughts and heat waves, and much more.
Here's the video view from the floor of the conference in Copenhagen:
CAP's analysis says that if the U.S. reductions pending in Congress and the executive branch go into effect (a big if), American emissions can be cut to at least 12% below 1990 levels by 2020. This is far more than the commitment President Obama is actually making in Copenhagen--17% cuts from 2005 levels by 2020. He's working in Copenhagen with the cuts enshrined in the House version of the climate and energy bill, which reduce emissions by only a few degrees below 1990 levels.
"Even though a lot of these proposals are pending, the U.S. targets for 2020 are much too soft," Light said. One of the points to be made here is that the U.S. can accomplish quite a bit through Presidential executive orders--in effect, making an end run around Congress. The House passed the Waxman-Markey bill back in June, but it's stalled in the Senate, which may not pass anything until March.
Obama is empowered to use his pen to control carbon dioxide because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a threat to public health, and that gave the Environmental Protection Agency, through the Clean Air Act, enforcement powers.
The final shoe to drop was the official EPA "endangerment" finding, which happened last week. The simple statement that greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of the American people" enables the EPA to finalize its standards for auto tailpipes, requiring cars reach 35.5 mpg combined by 2016.
The main sticking point right now is over verification. Obviously, if China says its economy grew five percent, and that by its calculations the country met its carbon intensity reduction targets, no one can argue. We need a process, perhaps painful, to ensure both that the Chinese economy really did grow that much and that the reductions are real.
In the same conference call in which I talked to Andrew Light, I also talked to Joe Romm, who is a fellow at the Center and also the editor of the valuable Climateprogress.org. Romm sounded more optimistic than usual. "There's always negative buzz that the process is dead, but progress is going on behind the scenes," he said. "By coming here to Copenhagen, President Obama is demonstrating that he's clearly committed to making a global deal happen. People are doing clean energy, and the technology is available now. We need an international agreement, financing and the right price signals."
It may be that China and its G77 allies will stick to an intransigent position on verification until the very end of the conference, but then reverse course at the last minute.
Light said his biggest surprise in Copenhagen so far is the "theatrics" in the street. He accused the G77 developing companies, some of whom temporarily walked out, of "bad form" in claiming they'd never seen the much-circulated draft version of a Copenhagen treaty.
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