US Climate Envoy Briefs Congress

Yesterday Todd Stern, the US State Department’s Special Envoy on Climate Change addressed the House select committee on climate change.  I didn’t get a chance to watch the hearing, but a couple of interesting things came out according to media reports.

First, he reiterated the importance of having Congress pass a climate bill by the time that the UN convenes climate negotiations in December, saying that having a climate law immanent would give the US “credibility and leverage” in negotiations.

Of course, he was speaking to the wrong audience.  The House passed its version of a climate and energy bill in June and is now waiting on the Senate.  The Senate has delayed consideration of climate legislation with the battle over health care reform taking center stage in Congressional deliberations.  This has make Senators from a wide variety of backgrounds less than optimistic about passage of legislation.  Some key Senators–namely Kerry and Boxer–are not giving up the fight and expect initial legislation to be introduced this month.

Stern also made mention of the difficulties ahead of Copenhagen with regard to aid to developing countries to shift to low carbon economic growth.  This is a major issue in negotiations with large emitters like China insistent that significaant financial flows from North to South be included in any agreement.  For countries poorer than China, guaranteed aid to deal with adaptation as well as mitigation is essential.

Before Stern’s remarks the European Commission released a plan that assumed developing countries would need $145 billion annually  by 2020 in climate-related aid.  Stern made no definitive response to the European proposal and a document released today by the US Treasury Department in advance of a meeting of G-20 finance ministers calls for increased money but doesn’t provide specific committments.

The European proposal has been seen as a way to jump-start negotiations, but the US silence suggests the move may not have been entirely successful.

Obama is scheduled to give a major speech on climate at the UN meeting in New York later this month.  Perhaps at that juncture he will be  bit more forthcoming with the US position.

Historic Japanese Election Significant for Climate Agreement

The Democratic Party of Japan’s rout of the long-dominant Liberal Democrats in this weekend’s election could likely have significance for December’s UN-sponsored climate change talks in Copenhagen.

There are many fissures amongst the negotiating positions of the 190-odd countries involved in hashing out a post-Kyoto treaty to decrease global carbon emissions.  But one of the more significant has been the differences amongst developed countries.  The European Union has advocated for strong emissions reductions while the US has been less enthusiastic.  Countries such as Japan, Australia, and Canada have been in the middle, depending on which party was in party at a particular time.

After the 2007 Australian election, one of the first international gestures of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s new government was to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol at the COP-13 meeting in Bali, helping to pave the way for the Bali Road Map.

Could something similar happen with the new Japanese government of Yukio Hatoyama?  The DPJ campaigned on a climate platform that calls for a 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, placing them squarely in line with European targets.

Although in the past, the DPJ had called for instituting a carbon tax, during this election they dropped the demand and said that they would “consider” the idea.

It will be interesting to see how Hatoyama acts in the next few weeks on the climate issue.  He will be attending a UN summit on climate change in New York sponsored by Ban Ki Moon next month which will be his first appearance on the major global stage.   Many will expect him to be bold–particularly on emissions targets–since last month he met with Ban Ki Moon and unequivocally endorsed the 25% reduction.

On the other hand, the DJP election was less of an endorsement of the party’s policies as much as it was a rejection of the Liberal Party and their perceived mishandling of the economy.  Because of this, it is probably not realistic to expect radical domestic policy shifts on climate.  The DJP coalition has a variety of viewpoints and Japanese industry is already expressing concern about the 25% target.

Nevertheless, having Japan step away from the US position on climate is more promising for a Copenhagen agreement than would have otherwise been the case.

Greenhouse Gases Increase in 2005, Hit All Time High

On the heels of the British Stern Report and in anticipation of next week’s climate change meetings in Nairobi, the World Meterological Organization is reporting that global emissions of greenhouse gases has hit an all time high.

The report indicates that  CO2 emissions were up 0.53% last year, Nitrous Oxide emissions were up 0.2%, while methane emissions remained stable.