U.S. to Kyoto Protocol: Just Not That Into You

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: The U.S. Senate is looking at new climate change legislation as the COP-15 global talks in Copenhagen approach this December. These two stories have fed off and driven each other all year. That they are happening together offers a clear view of just how stark differences are on what the U.S. should do.

There’s money. Rich nations have it, but are reluctant to part with it. Poor nations want it, to gird climate adaptation strategies and to alleviate energy poverty with low-carbon systems. The U.S. dropped opposition to a new international organization that would oversee climate-related fund transfers from rich to poor countries.

There’s trade. U.S. states dependent on exports and energy-intensive manufacturing fear a loss in their economic competitiveness if the U.S. adopts a low-carbon strategy and key competitors don’t. The U.N.-mediated process in fact excludes developing nations from such a requirement. That’s not changing so quickly, even against the steady background hum that the two-tiered system, for rich and poor nations, is flawed, possibly by Western “sabotage.”

Fortunately, there are also the ministers of the Maldives, willing to inject gallows humor into the proceedings.

Dating Advice for Negotiators: President Barack Obama is unlikely to receive as cool a reception in Copenhagen in December, if he goes, as he did last month when Chicago’s Olympic bid took him to, uh, Copenhagen. John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute muses in Politico about the differences in public opinion on climate change between the U.S. and Europe. His conclusion is the international climate negotiation version of, “He’s just not that into you.”

At least a handful of senators and executive branch officials are struggling daily to challenge that conclusion by making new policy. Democrats, particularly Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) has discussed the inclusion of nuclear energy provisions in the climate bill with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (D-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The bill is not expected to pass before the Copenhagen talks, Carol Browner, Obama’s chief climate adviser, said publicly this week.

The White House is expected to regulate heat-trapping gas emissions, despite its stated preference for legislation. A path through the Environmental Protection Agency may be fraught with domestic political risks for the administration and lawsuits over new rules.

Model Universe?: A scientific paper [pdf] published last year by Jim Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a team that includes several paleoclimatologists came to the tentative conclusion that the world should shoot for a climate stabilization target of 350 parts carbon dioxide for every million parts of air, or 350 ppm. (The preindustrial value was about 280 ppm. We’re currently near 390 ppm.)

A new study looks at economic implications. Frank Ackerman of Tufts University and the Stockholm Environmental Institute has led a team of economists in modeling economic scenarios by which the world stabilizes at 350 ppm by 2200. The researchers use the common Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy (DICE), but make assumptions that treat the possibility of extreme climate change with greater emphasis. They assume a much higher value for the climate’s temperature sensitivity to increased carbon dioxide, a much lower value for the depreciation of the dollar over time, and vary the scale of climate damages.

Is Seeing Really Believing?: A British environmentalist is suing his former employer, a major property company, on the grounds that it violated his religious or philosophical belief that climate change is real and people should alter their lifestyles to eliminate carbon pollution. This approach, that climate change is a belief system, must be maddening to scientists. After all, scientists make a living by collecting and explaining data. Science writers filter it for people less inclined to read peer-reviewed journals. So the notion of “believing”–which is generally not driven by skeptical data collection– runs in the opposite direction how scientists learned about climate change in the first place and how they keep tabs on it. On the other hand, unless you’re collecting and analyzing all the data yourself, which no human being possibly has time for, chances are that on some basic level you end up having to choose to “believe” somebody…

A Passage to India: India has undergone a significant makeover on its public climate rhetoric in the last two months or so. Its central positions haven’t changed. The “per capita principle” remains in effect, the guarantee that Indian per capita emissions will never pass that of rich nations. U.S. emissions are on the order of 20 tons per person. In India that figure is just higher than 1 ton. India will not accept binding emission reduction targets. It will not abide U.S. protectionism in climate policy. There are at least 100 million more Indians without electricity than there are all Americans, in total.

The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledges that the climate threat is real, and is expected to introduce domestic legislation next month targeting fuel efficiency and building codes. India itself may be at risk for some of the most perilous regional changes, in the monsoon that brings the region 70 percent of its precipitation, and in the Himalayan glaciers that feed major rivers–and provide drinking water to 1 billion people.

For the next three weeks Climate Post will be traveling through India–Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Mumbai, New Delhi–speaking mostly with colleagues in journalism, but also with audiences at companies, universities, and NGOs to talk about what we can learn from each other on this global problem. Posts will come as close to their usual “Thursdays at three” as circumstances allow (Perhaps even closer than usual…). Again, circumstances permitting, more frequent updates will come through CarbonNation (http://www.CarbonNation.org), a (much-neglected) personal blog. The trip is sponsored by a U.S. State Department grant.

My goal for this trip is to help build a bridge between journalists and interested observers in the U.S. and India, some kind of electronic journalism “buddy system. Details TK. Feel free help us out: Send questions and comments about all things India here. Let’s try to get them answered and addressed.

See you next week in Kolkata…

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist.

One Reply to “U.S. to Kyoto Protocol: Just Not That Into You”

  1. The first thing that COP 15 organisers should do is to turn off air-conditioners in the conference room. And, it is hoped that the participants would oblige…..these comforts contribute to Global Warming too!

Comments are closed.