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.
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."
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."
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 participation.
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
Also intending 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
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.
The two 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
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.