Wednesday, September 16, 2009

US planning to weaken Copenhagen climate deal, Europe warns.

There is a serious rift developing between the Obama administration and Europe over how to best tackle climate change, especially over the structure of a new worldwide treaty on global warming.

And it appears that this is all to do with the Republican party's refusal to accept global warming as the threat which almost every other nation on Earth recognises it to be.

The dispute between the US and Europe is over the way national carbon reduction targets would be counted. Europe has been pushing to retain structures and systems set up under the Kyoto protocol, the existing global treaty on climate change. US negotiators have told European counterparts that the Obama administration intends to sweep away almost all of the Kyoto architecture and replace it with a system of its own design.

The issue is highly sensitive and European officials are reluctant to be seen to openly criticise the Obama administration, which they acknowledge has engaged with climate change in a way that President Bush refused to. But they fear the US move could sink efforts to agree a robust new treaty in Copenhagen.

The US distanced itself from Kyoto under President Bush because it made no demands on China, and the treaty remains political poison in Washington. European negotiators knew the US would be reluctant to embrace Kyoto, but they hoped they would be able to use it as a foundation for a new agreement.

If Kyoto is scrapped, it could take several years to negotiate a replacement framework, the source added, a delay that could strike a terminal blow at efforts to prevent dangerous climate change. "In Europe we want to build on Kyoto, but the US proposal would in effect kill it off. If we have to start from scratch then it all takes time. It could be 2015 or 2016 before something is in place, who knows."

I don't think there are any European leaders who do not accept that Obama is serious on the subject of climate change in a way in which his predecessor was not. And I think we can all agree that Kyoto is regarded as poisonous in Washington.

So I am willing to cut Obama some slack here. However, it is highly unusual that leaks of this kind should be coming out, especially as Europe is so keen to keep the Obama team on board.

But then we find this:

The US is yet to offer full details on how its scheme might work, though a draft "implementing agreement" submitted to the UN by the Obama team in May contained a key clause that emissions reductions would be subject to "conformity with domestic law".

Legal experts say the phrase is designed to protect the US from being forced to implement international action it does not agree with. Farhana Yamin, an environmental lawyer with the Institute of Development Studies, who worked on Kyoto, said: "It seems a bit backwards. The danger is that the domestic tail starts to wag the international dog."

International law supersedes domestic law, and in the US it does so by becoming the supreme law of the land, so it is a bizarre point that the Obama administration is trying to make here.

But it is implied that he is trying to cut himself enough slack to get any legislation through the US Senate.

The move reflects a "prehistoric" level of debate on climate change in the wider US, according to another high-ranking European official, and anxiety in the Obama administration about its ability to get a new global treaty ratified in the US Senate, where it would require a two-thirds majority vote. The US has not ratified a major international environment treaty since 1992 and President Clinton never submitted the Kyoto protocol for approval, after a unanimous Senate vote indicated it would be rejected on economic grounds.

The US proposal for unilateral rule-setting "is all about getting something through the Senate," the source said. "But I don't have the feeling that the US has thought through what it means for the Copenhagen agreement."

I can understand Europe's frustration with Obama's position. But, when he requires a two-thirds majority to get any treaty ratified by the US Senate, I understand where Obama is coming from as well. He is facing a Republican party who will say no at any opportunity.

And, understandable as all of this is, it makes me despair that we will ever achieve anything when it comes to climate change. After all, the Republican party don't even accept that the danger exists. How can one bring forward any treaty that they would be willing to ratify, if they don't even accept the premise on which we are proceeding?

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