German Chancellor Angela Merkel and chief European Union executive Jose Barroso will be in Washington on Monday to meet with US President George Bush on EU-US relations. After the latest UN report on climate change was released earlier this month, it has been speculated that Merkel and the EU would use it as evidence to push Bush into action on reducing US greenhouse gas emissions.
While the key meeting of the G-8 in June is supposed to have climate change high on the agenda for G-8 leaders, this April summit was likely to have been a first step in developing some sort of agreement with the US. That is why it is disconcerting to see Barroso say earlier this week that climate change is unlikely to figure prominently in Monday’s discussions.
It is unclear whether this is a deliberate EU strategy or whether Merkel and Barroso are waiting until the more high-profile June meeting to push the issue. The latter may indeed be the path they are seeking to take. Yesterday Barroso met with new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who surprised Bush earlier this year with his pledge to put climate change at the top of the UN agenda during his tenure.
After the meeting with Barroso, Ban reiterated his plan to profile climate change at the June G-8 meeting and expressed support for Al Gore’s work on the issue.
The Toronto Star has an interesting article today comparing Toronto’s Mayor David Miller and Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley. The two men (pictured here flanking US EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson) have a relatively close relationship forged through their active roles in Great Lakes issues. While many environmentalists in both Chicago and Toronto might be less inclined to accept uncritically assertions that the two mayors are inherently “green,” they both have at least put envrionmental issues on the urban policy agenda in their respective cities.
The Star article is particularly useful in its measured tone and its willingness to offer critique of Chicago’s record in some areas of environmental justice. Peter Gorrie, The Star’s environment writer, also has a side piece on the perennial problem of sulphur dioxide emissions from the Crawford electricity generation station in the Little Village neighborhood on the city’s southwest side. Gorrie’s article discusses the hands-off approach taken by the Mayor with regard to this issue.
In this regard it is important to recognize the distinctions between “beautifying” the city and tackling serious public health hazards when assessing Chicago’s “green” reputation.
The minority government of Tory PM Stephen Harper announced their plan for reducing carbon emissions yesterday. Ever since Harper took over last year and indicated that he had no intention of meeting Kyoto-mandated reduction targets, he has been subject to intense criticism from various opposition parties.
Yesterday’s announcement did little to assuage opposition concern. The plan gives significant concessions to industry by not requiring new plants to abide by the emissions targets for three years after their construction. This provision was designed specifically to make sure that the expansion of mining efforts in Alberta’s oil sands continues.
Oil and gas company stocks surged yesterday on Toronto’s stock exchange while prominent environmentalists such as David Suzuki and Al Gore lambasted the plan.
Last year there was speculation that the Tory’s abandonment of Kyoto targets could bring down the government and force new elections. However, this doesn’t appear likely at this point. Yesterday, NDP leader Jack Layton sent a letter to the leaders of the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois to request that the opposition emissions plan be subjected to a full vote in the House of Commons.
The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest summary report [.pdf] for policymakers last night. For the past several days the final draft has been the subject of intense negotiation and re-wording. According to the Washington Post, governmental delegats from the US, China,and Saudi Arabia objected to strongly worded pronouncements about the dire affects of anthropogenic climate change.
Nevertheless, the report is still pretty devastating. It highlights the extreme vulnerability of the globe’s poorest regions to climate change and highlights the issue of equity. It is anticipated that the findings from the report will be invoked during June’s G-8 summit as European leaders seek the US to engage in talks on a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that will entail mandatory caps on greenhouse gases.
In a press conference by the White House’s two point people on the issue–Sharon Hays of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality–the administration spokespeople seemed to play down the main findings of the report. Hays claimed that “not all projected impacts are negative” and that countries “are able to lessen the impacts of climate change through adaptation.” The report acknowledges adaptation, however, it asserts that “adaptation alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change, and especially not over the long run as most impacts increase in magnitude” [p. 18].
When pressed on the Administration’s position to a Kyoto-style mandatory limitation on greenhouse gas emissions, Connaugton strangely started talking about building codes and appliance efficiency standards clearly avoiding the question.
He did express some candor at the end of the press conference when he said that the report “reinforces” the Administration’s position. This is likely to mean that Bush won’t budge when Blair and Merkel force the issue in June.
Today’s papers (NYTimes, Wash. Post, CSMonitor, Independent) are reporting on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Massachusetts vs. EPA. It is an important decision for a number of reasons:
1) It requires the EPA to consider greenhouse gases “pollutants” that merit regulation under the Clean Air Act. For students who may be reading this from my Implementation class, the issue at hand is an interesting case of an implementation agency (the EPA) using their latitude of interpretation in such a way as to depart from the objectives of a statute.
At issue was the EPA’s unwillingness to declare greenhouse gases as falling under its regulatory purview. The Clean Air Act gives the EPA Administrator some “judgment” in forming regulations to protect “public health and welfare” from air pollution. Massachusetts and other co-petitioners thought that the EPA needed to regulate motor vehicle emissions on the basis that these emissions contributed to changes in climate that would have negative affects on their localities.
With the court siding with Massachusetts they are essentially requiring the EPA to develop a regulatory strategy to meet the demands of the legislation.
2) The decision provides further evidence of the development of a political consensus around the idea that anthropogenic climate change is a public policy issue. By no means is there a consensus around how to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, but given the recent reluctance of the Bush Administration and some members of Congress to question the extent to which climate change is even a problem, this ruling is significant. Although it was a split decision, with the most conservative members of the court (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia) dissenting, it still suggests that the issue is continuing to attain relevance.
3) Finally, the dissent centered around the argument that Massachusetts, et al. did not have standing to file suit against the EPA. This has been a consistent obstacle in environmental policy cases. The fact that the majority rejected this claim suggests that other suits will not be thrown out for lack of standing.
The next step will be to see how the EPA reacts to the court’s judgement.