Last weekend in Singapore, President Barack Obama acknowledged that a comprehensive international climate deal will not be reached during the climate change summit in Copenhagen. While many might view this as a letdown, lowering expectations might actually be a good thing, as Matthew Yglesias notes for the American Prospect. According to Yglesias, the conference can now be framed as a relative success whatever happens, and that will keep the momentum for climate action going after Copenhagen.
Now that the conference is no longer a shoe-in failure, it’s more important than ever that the president is on hand. Obama’s attendance will signify that the his administration is committed to passing climate legislation through the Senate.
In the video below, The Real News notes that Obama is simply trying to buy more time. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, is hopeful that a legally binding treaty that focuses on the clear, main points, like how much to reduce emissions and finance the bill, are still attainable. Even though the Senate has not passed a climate bill, the United States can still play a constructive role in Copenhagen.
But will the international climate summit put any pressure on the Senate to actually pass a climate bill? Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly remains skeptical. “Republican [lawmakers] seem entirely unfazed when told, ‘There’s a health care crisis, and the entire country is waiting for you to be responsible and do your duty,’” writes Benen. “These same lawmakers will soon be told, ‘There’s a climate crisis, and the entire world is waiting for you to take your obligations seriously.’ Will they find this compelling? I suppose time will tell.”
In Mother Jones, Bill McKibben criticizes Obama’s weak leadership on climate change. Rather than applying the necessary political pressure to reach a climate deal, Obama has made climate change a second priority to health care reform. Even worse, the Obama administration conceded a sturdy treaty because it was unrealistic that Senate would pass it. McKibben notes that the “White House is starting to use the Senate in the same way that the Bush administration used China – as a scapegoat for doing too little. You don’t get to blame the Senate if you haven’t pushed the Senate as hard as you possibly can.”
Grist’s David Roberts argues that the real culprit is not Obama, but the recalcitrant Senate. Calling Obama’s leadership a failure is premature because he still has a chance to push reform and make a difference. Roberts also contends that McKibben’s analogy of Obama using the Senate like Bush used China is unsound:
“The analogy is apt insofar as China was out of Bush’s control and the Senate is out of Obama’s. But it’s inapt in that there’s plenty Bush could have done without China and he didn’t; there’s plenty Obama can do outside the Senate and he’s doing it. When it comes to matters under executive branch control, the progress over the last 10 months have been amazing – new fuel-economy rules, new enforcement of efficiency standards, EPA moving forward on CO2 regulations, energy standards and goals for all federal departments, tons of green stimulus money, national retrofit programs, delay of mining and drilling permits, sustained bi- and multi- lateral international climate diplomacy… the list goes on. Obama is doing what a president can do – more than any president has ever done.”
Where do the American people stand on climate action? According to a recent poll featured on Yes! Magazine, 75% of Americans “favor government regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cars, and factories” and 59% of Americans “favor the U.S. taking action on global warming, even if other countries like China and India do less.”
To channel this national consensus for urgent climate action, Peter Rothberg of The Nation compiled a guide that outlines how activists can get involved before Copenhagen. The guide recommends tactics that average citizens can use to pressure the key actors at Copenhagen.
Progress at Copenhagen is still possible, but there’s no guaranteed outcome. If the U.S. wants to play a valuable role at Copenhagen, it should rise above the fray in Congress and focus on producing a viable pact with international support in the upcoming year. Copenhagen needs to serve as a wake up call that climate change is a collective global problem that needs a collective global solution.
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