The last round of negotiations prior to the Copenhagen Summit in Barcelona fizzled to a message of decreased expectations. This has set the table for rapid political posturing from the US. On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal quoted several key Senators, including climate bill sponsor Sen. Kerry, with various statements postponing the possibility of US domestic climate legislation until next year. Thursday the Washington Post broke a story that the Obama administration is feeling out the possibility for interim agreements in lieu of a formal treaty in December. This morning the first official news of President’s Asia trip is of an agreement with Japan that both countries will commit to decreasing GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 with global reductions of 50% by mid century. With China and India on schedule for later in the trip it is probable that climate will come up again, although balance of trade and Yuan/$ exchange is likely to dominate the conversation (for more on expected China content check out Robert Borosage on Huff Post).
It seems to this writer that Obama is guarding his international reputation more than setting a clear signal that the US is ready to engage in international climate agreements. With the UN leadership hedging expectations away from a treaty, and the US Senate making it clear that domestic policy won’t be in place to bargain a real US position in Copenhagen, the Nobel prize winning President has a fair amount to lose if the breakdown of international negotiations is blamed on the lack of change in the US negotiating stance from the previous administration. But this is only continued lip service to the climate crisis without any commitment to climate policy. Obama has waited until the possibility of real action at Copenhagen was already a forgone conclusion to start portraying a leadership role. The Japanese agreement has no short term requirements, and the interim agreement at Copenhagen is also likely to lack commitment. Given the decreased expectations set at Barcelona it is cheap to pump up his eagerness to involve the US in an international climate regime. Who knows maybe Obama will even show up in Copenhagen to champion an non-committal, interim agreement, and this could actually be the critical first step in engaging both the US and breaking down China’s resistance to mandatory reductions.
(Photo from UPI dated March 10, 2009)