Obama at COP15: The Grand Deal and the Second Track


obama-cop15By Eban Goodstein, Director of The Bard Center for Environmental Policyjoin Dir Goodstein on The National Climate Seminar call where he will be reporting live from COP 15 tomorrow!

As COP 15 enters its final days, among the tens of thousands of international negotiators, climate activists, and green business entrepreneurs, hopes have been raised by the expected presence of both President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this Friday.

What would count as victory in Copenhagen? Perhaps a commitment from China, the US and the rest of the world, to hold global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees C. Or Obama could take a dramatic first move on his own. He could declare his intent to push through carbon reductions regardless of Senate action, with the EPA enforcing his 17 percent target through the Clean Air Act.

Regardless, on Friday, Obama needs to bring leadership to COP 15, and that leadership needs to carry the US, and the rest of the world, forward.

But forward to where?  Not to a grand-deal, Kyoto-style.

Just over ten years ago, in Kyoto, the international community came to the table with a vision: internationally negotiated, binding emissions targets and timetables, with the rich countries going first, poor countries following at a later date, and a big pot of money to help low income countries transition to clean technology.

The Europeans bought in. The US, with Fox-news style “government is the problem” conservatism, and the Bush Presidency on the horizon, walked away.

Ten years after, here in Copenhagen, no grand-deal is emerging. There will be a framework for extending Kyoto, for the Kyoto countries. There will be a small pot of money to attack tropical deforestation and degradation through the UN-REDD Program. But the key to saving the planet will be what happens on the second track–the international negotiations that will include the two main countries that refused commitments under Kyoto. And this second track will be shaped, ultimately, by the US Senate, and the Chinese Communist Party.

A successful second track will involve an upward spiral of US-Chinese challenges on emission reduction and technology leadership. Earlier this year, the US and China began the dance, signing a significant technology cooperation deal. Here is how the second track would advance: Next spring, the Senate commits to cap and trade, albeit with a weak target; in the next few years, the Chinese beat their targets for efficiency investments; the Senate reacts to emerging Chinese leadership in green technology with serious clean energy investments; the Chinese acknowledge the reality of the climate threat by finally, adopting reduction targets of its own; the Senate responds by ratcheting down US targets to those that science and justice demand.

The end-game for Obama in Copenhagen is to force the first step: Senate action next spring. If he can orchestrate this kind of movement down a second track, then he will be on the road to having earned his Nobel Prize.

Director Goodstein writes from Copenhagen, Denmark, and on Wednesday 12/16 at 3 PM eastern, join him on The National Climate Seminar call where he will be reporting live from COP 15 to give us a report on what is happening on the ground. Dial-in number is 712-432-3100; conference code, 253385. Send advance questions to climate@bard.edu.

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One response

  1. The world needs leadership from Obama but the needed US climate change law must pass in the Senate not the Oval Office. President Obama is a multilateralist and a champion of emissions reductions, but he could not produce a binding agreement at COP15 because of the inaction of the Senate. Despite all the activity in Denmark, the front line of the climate issue is not in Copenhagen, it is in Washington.


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