Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize score could have numerous implications – including potential benefits for the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen (scheduled for December 7th through 18th). According to a Reuters report, some analysts believe the award could push Obama to attend the Conference, in part because officials will hand over the prize in nearby Oslo on December 10th. Will Obama respond as such, and would his doing so impact the Conference’s success?
Despite the Obama administration’s sluggishness in passing climate legislation in time for the Copenhagen conference, the administration has, at least in intention, improved on the previous administration’s climate actions. Former President George W. Bush dropped efforts to get the Senate to ratify the Kyoto Protocol for 2020 (which all other industrialized nations adopted), while Obama is encouraging the US to assume a bigger role in a new global climate treaty. It’s this attitude that (at least in part) likely qualified him for the Prize and makes his attending the UN Conference a pressure point for many world leaders.
Judging from statements by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and other groups, the pressure is “on” for Obama to attend the Conference. The Committee reportedly praised Obama and his climate policies heavily: “Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting,” it said. Meanwhile, Norwegian politicians also emphasized their hope that the award would increase Obama’s resolve to push greenhouse gas legislation in the Senate (a step seen as a precursor to the US legitimacy and influence in the Copenhagen Conference). And Greenpeace International Executive Director Gerd Leipold reportedly said, “In accepting the award in Oslo on 10th December President Obama has an incredible opportunity, and responsibility, to then travel to the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit to help avert climate chaos and conflict.”
Are these expectations realistic? After all, a number of factors could prevent Obama from attending the Conference. First, timing: the first week of the Copenhagen Conference will be run by only senior government bureaucrats, with environmental ministers (and Obama, if he attends) from around the world arriving later (on December 16 – almost a week after the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony). Will Obama wait it out?
Second, is Obama’s “resolve” really enough to overcome barriers in the Senate to passing climate legislation? Some would argue that it’s the U.S. political system, not Obama himself, that’s the problem when it comes to passing a climate bill or re-working the U.S.’s role in a global greenhouse gas treaty. (Check out a grist.org article on Obama’s stance on environment as expressed during his campaign. I’d argue that, if it were completely up to the President, we’d probably have aggressive emissions reduction targets already in place. Since then, his climate plan has been watered down a bit, presumably to make it more likely to pass in the House and Senate.)
What are your thoughts on the impact of Obama’s receiving a Nobel Prize on his attending the Copenhagen Conference and on the Conference’s success?