16 December 2007

Bali Progress, DC Deadlock

Council on Foreign Relations - December 15, 2007
Toni Johnson

Bali Progress, DC Deadlock

Lack of action in the United States inhibits international progress on climate change. (AP Images/ Firdia Lisnawati)

While a compromise deal was reached on global climate policy in Bali (LATimes), the Democratic and Republican U.S. lawmakers who attended the international climate policy conference know their work is just beginning. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), head of the Senate’s environment committee, assured Bali delegates “change is already happening in Washington.” Still, the outlook remains grim for new American climate policy in Congress. A bill that Boxer’s committee approved days before (Baltimore Sun) the Bali trip faces serious opposition from Senate Republicans who argue it will raise energy prices and cost U.S. jobs. “There are alternatives that must be considered before we move forward,” said a Republican on the panel. The climate bill could lower U.S. emissions up to 25 percent by 2020. Boxer called the bill’s approval a historic moment. But the bill may never pass, and if it does, lawmakers are unlikely to overcome an expected presidential veto. Some experts hope that similar legislation can be enacted after the next president takes office in January 2009.

In the absence of federal action, U.S. state and local governments have initiated climate proposals, some with mandatory caps. At least five hundred U.S. mayors have signed an agreement to “meet or beat” what the U.S. commitment would have been had it signed the Kyoto Protocol. Coalitions of Western states, Northeastern states, and Midwestern states—accounting for nearly half the U.S. states as well as a few Canadian provinces—have started regional initiatives, two of which seek to cut emissions 10 percent to 15 percent in the next decade. Several states already have adopted regulations capping emissions from power plants and car makers. California has enacted a law that caps emissions from all economic sectors (AP), which could reduce emissions by 25 percent in the next ten years.

Local and state officials say the lack of federal policy is forcing them to act. Business and industry see this trend of fragmenting climate policy as worrisome and have called on Washington lawmakers to craft federal policy. In a November speech, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said mayors needed to keep innovating (PDF) and to demand those in Washington join in. But the political climate there does not look suitable yet.

At Bali, new mandatory emissions targets were resisted by other nations, too (SMHerald). And the row expected between the industrialized and developing world (read: the United States and China) did indeed materialize, nearly preventing an agreement. But the Bali conference finally found enough common ground (BBC) for a compromise, brokered by the European Union, which postpones new caps for now and looks to a final package to be hammered out in 2009.

The Europeans had wanted to clearly state a commitment to cut emissions 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. U.S. pressure helped demote the language to a footnote (AFP) in the final document’s preamble. And the language only applies to ratifiers of the Kyoto Protocol, thus excluding the United States. CFR fellow Michael Levi says just because some countries seem unwilling to settle on these issues in Bali does not preclude them from agreeing to future climate rules. The talk on emissions targets continues early next year among the 17 largest economies at U.S. hosted climate talks in Hawaii, a summit which would have faced a boycott by the EU and other states had the American delegation not relented (LATimes) to the last minute deal in Bali.

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