Clinton’s plan for greenhouse gases long shot

Freedom New Mexico

At this week’s Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured 16 developed and developing nations that the U.S. will provide “political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome” at December’s U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Perhaps as a token of sincerity, she also apologized for the U.S. not having done more to curb global warming.

Copenhagen’s goal is a new international global warming pact to replace the ineffective Kyoto treaty, which expires in 2012 and which the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against ratifying in 1997. Despite President Barack Obama’s assurance that the U.S. is “fully engaged and ready to lead and determined to make up for lost time,” it’s an open question whether the U.S. will sign the new agreement.

The Environmental Protection Agency seemed to advance the cause last month by declaring carbon dioxide and five other gases to be harmful, clearing the way to regulate nearly every so-called greenhouse gas emitter. But the president reportedly prefers Congress take the enforcement lead with legislation.

Therein lies the rub. The United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper recently reported that “Barack Obama may be forced to delay signing up to a new international agreement on climate change in Copenhagen … because of the scale of opposition in the U.S. Congress.”

Citing conversations between “senior figures in the Obama administration” and British Labor Party counterparts, the Guardian said congressional opposition may “derail securing of a tough global agreement in time for countries and markets to adopt it before the Kyoto treaty runs out in 2012.”

There are at least 15 “rust-belt” Democrats representing states dependent on coal mining, steel production and heavy manufacturing, all of which emit vast amounts of CO2, the Guardian reported. Those interests in the president’s own party could block tough legislation.

There also, the Guardian said, is potential for political backlash if the administration unilaterally agrees to the new treaty, as occurred in 1997. The paper reported that “opposition within America is potentially substantial, and might be hardened if Obama looks like he is presenting Congress with a fait accompli.”

Meanwhile, Clinton tries to win support from China and India, which so far refuse to sacrifice economic growth by agreeing to deep greenhouse gas reductions. “We want people to have a higher standard of living,” Clinton told this week’s gathering, while acknowledging complaints that developed nations like the U.S. “are responsible for past emissions.”

The Obama administration is trying to placate developing nations, which may require emission concessions or outright cash transfers, and congressional representatives from carbon-emitting states, who just as adamantly oppose economic hardships from curbing carbon emissions.

The president’s goal to reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions 80 percent by midcentury seems to be a long shot. That’s good, considering that, despite the popular lament, greenhouse gases have not conclusively been shown to increase global temperatures, let alone raising them to a dangerous degree.