US Climate Envoy: Targets Still Good Without Congress

Global climate negotiators hunkered down in Bonn’s Hotel Maritim today in one of the last negotiating sessions before the major meeting this December in Cancun.

US Climate Envoy, Todd Stern (photo: Center for American Progress)

Last year’s negotiations in Copenhagen ended with a political agreement brokered by the United States that said the world should limit warming to 2 degrees centigrade from pre-industrial levels.  All governments that agreed with the sentiment were invited to submit their own domestic commitments by the end of last January.  Those numbers would then be used as the basis for negotiating a more permanent agreement.

Leaving aside the fact that when you do the math, the global commitments come up short in providing a strong chance at the 2 degree stabilization, with the Senate’s recent decision to stop work on climate legislation the US is in a difficult position to defend its own actions at Bonn and help move along the negotiation process.

Today, the European Union envoy said that they are unlikely to sign on to a continuation of the reductions mandated under the Kyoto agreement without the United States involved in some sort of framework.

Head US negotiator, Todd Stern, today said that the international community shouldn’t worry:  the US commitment stands.  The assumption of the Obama Administration is that they can accomplish significant reductions using regulatory mechanisms via the EPA and other  federal agencies.

This may be the case, but independent analysis indicates that even if the federal government and all of the states who have plans on the books for greenhouse gas reductions pursue the most aggressive actions, the US 2020 commitment will be unattainable in the absence of Congressional action.

It will be interesting to see global reaction to the US over the next week as the meetings progress in Bonn.  With Stern not backing down from an untenable position, it will give other countries an excuse to avoid their own action creating further stalemate in the effort to come to a global deal.

Dispatch From Bonn

Maritim Hotel, Bonn, site of the UN Climate Talks

Today marks the beginning of the first major international climate talks since last December’s meeting in Copenhagen. That meeting, of course, ended in a storm of controversy and uncertainty with the United States hailing its non-binding political declaration as a “breakthrough” and much of the rest of the world expressing disappointment that there was not a legally binding agreement to deal with the climate crisis.

The United States has always maintained that the Copenhagen Accord is a first step on the way (perhaps) to a legal agreement, but as the weeks proceed to the next major meeting scheduled for December in Cancun, there seems to be little movement.

In Bonn, the parties will be taking up an actual negotiating text that is supposed to serve as the basis for an agreement.  However, the text does not come very close to resolving the key issues around the acceptable global temperature rise, greenhouse gas emissions reduction levels, which parties should reduce emissions, and the time line for reductions.

Additionally, the negotiations are still proceeding on two separate tracks–one involving the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (which excludes the US) that is trying to figure out how that agreement will function after the first phase of its implementation finishes in 2012 and another on “long term cooperative action” which includes the major emitters.

Fundamentally, the negotiations are at much the same stage as they were last year at this point.  Given the fact that all of the major issues are still outstanding, it is unclear what sort of progress will be made in the next two weeks in Bonn.