In a major blow to the campaign against the presumed threat of global warming, world leaders acknowledge that a legally binding global treaty won’t be approved at next month’s 192-nation climate conference in Copenhagen.
The concession significantly delays U.N. efforts to orchestrate a treaty to limit greenhouse gases to replace the Kyoto Treaty, which expires in 2012. Nations like the U.S. and poorer nations share the blame for the missed deadline. Their concerns are similar to our own.
Developed nations are reluctant to limit domestic greenhouse gas emissions for fear of harming their already slumping economies. They also resist subsidizing poorer nations’ efforts. Meanwhile, developing nations like China and India refuse to adopt restrictions unless wealthier nations like the U.S. compensate them for the cost.
This could be a long-term standoff. It’s an understandably worldwide reluctance to commit what increasingly looked like economic suicide.
The proposed 20-percent greenhouse-gas reduction by 2020 would mean the U.S. returning to 1977 emission levels. That would “radically change both the U.S. economy and our personal lives,” according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit organization of energy and environmental policy experts and scientists.
“Car and truck miles traveled would have to be reduced by one-third (or fuel efficiency improved by one-third, hard to do in 10 years), which would seriously reduce travel and transportation, and likely force changes in automobile design that consumers would not like,” the NCPA says. The amount of coal burned to create electricity would have to be cut in half without feasible alternatives to pick up the slack.
Such concerns so far block congressional efforts. Senators from industrial, carbon-emitting states are reluctant to impose regulations that will put their constituencies at an economic disadvantage.
“If we passed a bill that the rest of the world didn’t follow,” observed Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, “then Uncle Sam could soon become Uncle Sucker and export all of our jobs to China.”
The House has passed greenhouse gas legislation, but a Senate bill is stalled. Backers concede it won’t be approved this year as intended. Advocates hope to bring that bill to a vote in the spring, keeping as much distance as possible between the vote and November’s election. Growing public skepticism and a slow-to-recover economy could threaten voter backlash.
The latest poll by Rasmussen Reports shows 47 percent of voters believe global warming is caused primarily by long-term planetary trends, not human activity. Only 37 percent say warming is manmade.
There is a potential complication. The Obama Administration has readied the EPA to enact Draconian greenhouse gas regulations without congressional approval, partly as leverage to force congressional action. Would the government move ahead administratively to show other countries the U.S. is serious?
But that still wouldn’t satisfy developing nations’ demands for financial compensation, and it could mean a public backlash to the White House, rather than to congressional candidates.
Our hope is these unwise, economy-dampening and freedom-restricting efforts remain stalled.