How green is Obama, really?
Monday, 01 June 2009, 15:37 IST
Washington: The newest calculations by the U.S. government on climate change are nightmarish. The level of carbon emissions released into the Earth's atmosphere will surge nearly 40 percent by 2030 if governments can't force more limits on gases blamed for global warming, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected a few days back. The report sent a clear warning to negotiators who start meeting Monday in Bonn to seek consensus on a post-Kyoto agreement before the final meeting in December in Copenhagen. All eyes will be on the US, which shares with China the dubious position of being the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases. The US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period expires in 2012, and had been inching toward support of a successor protocol. But to the disappointment of European observers, the US Congress is dragging its feet on legislation to control emissions, despite US President Barack Obama's declaration of war against global warming. "Is the president green enough?" Time magazine asked. Obama launched an initiative to reduce car emissions earlier this month, and he says alternative energy projects must be promoted through his economic recovery programme. But a reluctant US Congress is resisting even moderate cap-and-trade goals, which would reduce US carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Despite its modest goals, former vice president Al Gore called the proposed law "one of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress", comparing it to the Marshal Plan, which spent US money to help rebuild western Europe after World War II. Obama has called the bill a "historic leap". Others are more sceptical. German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, for example, during a recent visit to Washington, made no attempt to hide his disdain for the legislation. He conceded there was a new tone from the Obama government on climate matters and an apparent willingness for "substantial talks". But Gabriel said Americans and Europeans continue to live "in two different worlds" when it came to environmental awareness. The European Union's more ambitious goals call for a 20 percent reduction in emissions by 2020 and use a much earlier date - 1990 - to begin calculations. With strong international cooperation, that target could be boosted to 30 percent from 1990 levels. Measured against that, the US proposal would achieve a mere four percent reduction below 1990. "This bill has been seriously undermined by the lobbying of industries more concerned with profits than the plight of our planet," Greenpeace USA director Phil Radford said. Environmentalists charge that under the proposal, 85 percent of carbon certificates would be given free to US industry - a gift to coal-mining states such as West Virginia, Tennessee and Illinois. Massive resistance in the US Congress threatens to bind the hands of Washington in the international talks, and it could be that US negotiators will travel to Copenhagen with no clear mandate. US climate envoy Todd Stern already warned of such a situation: "It is in no one's interest to repeat the experience of Kyoto by delivering an agreement that won't gain sufficient support at home in all of our countries, including my own." The Kyoto Protocol, the first deal to limit global emissions, was signed by then-president Bill Clinton, who for three years never sent the treaty to the US Senate for ratification, knowing it had no chance of becoming law. His successor, George W Bush, who opposed action on global warming for most of his eight-year administration, cited the Senate reality in revoking the US signature of the Kyoto document. Bush later changed his position on climate change but insisted that rapidly developing industrial giants - most prominently China and India, which were exempted under Kyoto - must be held to some limits. In fact, negotiators convening Monday in Bonn will be considering a draft treaty that sets the first-ever targets for developing nations to reduce emissions. The draft, released last week in New York by Yvo de Boer, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), suggests that developed countries must reduce carbon emissions by 75 to 95 percent by 2050, measured against 1990 levels. Emerging economies such as India and China would have more leeway, with targets of 15 to 30 percent reductions by 2020, and 25 percent reductions by 2050, measured against a later baseline of 2000.