Climate Change: Obama Must Offer Deeper Emissions Cuts

Copenhagen Watch: Part III

Expectations are high for Obama’s arrival at climate talks in Copenhagen tomorrow. Many hope that his presence there will jump start negotiations, which have hit numerous roadblocks this week. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got things rolling today by announcing that the United States will participate in a climate financing effort to the tune of $100 billion per ear by 2020. However, the offer leaves much to be desired. Most significantly, the United States has yet to address the biggest issue on the table: carbon emissions.

The United States is the number two CO2 emitter in the world – just behind China. Nevertheless, the emissions target proposed by Obama thus far – a 4% reduction of 1990 levels by 2020 – is far too low. The European Union has already announced a target of 20%, and Japan has committed to a 25% reduction. According to the Center for American Progress, the U.S. needs to commit to a 23-30% reduction below 1990 levels in order to avoid a dangerous escalation in the affects of climate change.

Unfortunately, Obama currently lacks sufficient support from Congress to set a more ambitious target. Efforts to pass effective climate legislation are languishing in Senate. In November, Republicans boycotted a vote to pass out of committee a climate bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) even made a stop in Copenhagen today specifically to tell the international community that “there’s zero chance that the Senate will pass comprehensive climate legislation.”

Three senators – John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) – announced earlier this month that they would work to pass a “tri-partisan” climate bill which would “build upon the significant work already completed in Congress.” Considering the amount of compromise that will be necessary to ensure the requisite 60 votes, it is very unlikely that the 4% figure will go any higher – if it survives at all.

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