Obama: No Better Than Bush on Climate Change?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 9/16/2009 11:14:00 AM
The Guardian is running an article suggesting so. Obama has portrayed himself as both an environmentalist and an internationalist. If these were both true, nowhere would they be more evident than in his treatment of multilateral discussions on climate change. However, this report suggests otherwise as the Obama administration is put in a bad light in the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit where a successor to the Kyoto Protocol is being crafted. Not only is Washington adopting a "not invented here" attitude by presenting its own plan without much reference to Kyoto, but it is also favoring a largely unilateral, non-binding effort.

So how is Obama different from Bush in this respect? It seems to me that unwillingness to go along and unilateralism are Bushian to the core:
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...

Europe is unlikely to stand up to the US, the source added. "I am not sure that the EU actually has the guts for a showdown and that may be exactly the problem." The US plan is likely to anger many in the developing world, who are keen to retain Kyoto because of the obligations it makes on rich countries.

Under Kyoto, greenhouse gas reductions are subject to an international system that regulates the calculation of emissions, the purchase of carbon credits and contribution of sectors such as forestry. The US is pushing instead for each country to set its own rules and to decide unilaterally how to meet its target.
Like the denizens of the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages, climate change deniers are viewed as something of an American specialty, Bjorn Lomborg aside:
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."

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."
The workings of a climate deal are complicated. At a basic stage is getting developed nations to agree among themselves. Given that the climate change debate in American politics is fairly primitive compared to that in Europe, is it better to have a watered down, largely symbolic accord that actually stands a chance of passing in the US legislature than to come away with none at all at Copenhagen? Certainly, it's an interesting question.

Don't be surprised if the US remains the world's #1 environmental rogue regime even with a change of leadership. It's sad that not much seems to have changed in the US debate since George Bush Sr. said the American way of life is not up for negotiation in 1992. The pterodactyls are circling above Washington as we speak.