Obama at the Copenhagen Endgame
IPN Opinion article
Financial Times Energy Source
When he was elected a little over a year ago, President Obama promised “hope” and “change”. Yet, since coming to power, he has done little to change the status quo. At home, he has continued the massive economic intervention begun under Bush. Abroad, he kept on Robert Gates and has continued the US’s military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, hope seems to have diminished rapidly, and with it Obama’s approval ratings – which polls now put at 50 per cent or less. So it is not surprising that he should seek a new arena in which to enhance his public image.
This week, Obama will pick up his Nobel Peace Prize. He will no doubt seek to bask in the associated fanfare – especially in Europe where he remains a more revered figure. And perhaps he will emphasise that he has a duty to fulfil the promise for which the Prize was awarded by relating it to previous awardees Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – in the hope that this will change his own political fortunes for the better.
This brings us to what impact Obama might have on Copenhagen. To understand this, it is worth briefly rehearsing the context. In the US, international treaties are not automatically binding once signed: they must first be ratified, which in most cases means they must be approved by the Senate. Copenhagen is a Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 1997, prior to the UNFCCC COP in Kyoto, the US Senate passed Resolution 98 by 95 votes to 0. This
“Resolved, That … the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto in December 1997, or thereafter, which would-- (A) mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period, or (B) would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States.”
In spite of the fact that the Kyoto Protocol clearly violated condition A and probably violated condition B, President Clinton signed it; unsurprisingly, it was never submitted to the Senate for ratification and George W. Bush eventually rejected it.
Over the course of the past several months, Obama’s administration, their counterparts in the EU and several EU states (including Britain) have sought to persuade developing country governments to commit to binding restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. At present, it appears that while China and India in particular are committed to reducing the carbon intensity of production, they are not willing actually to limit emissions per se. This is likely to be the major stumbling block to a global agreement to limit emissions.