U.S. climate bill to shape U.N. talks

June 16, 2010 at 1:10 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 16 (UPI) -- Worldwide hopes for a comprehensive climate protection treaty hinge on whether U.S. President Barack Obama can push through an ambitious U.S. climate bill.

At least that's what observers to the U.N. climate negotiations say.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, a former Danish climate minister and chairwoman of the Copenhagen climate summit, last month said it was key that the United States legally commits itself to greenhouse gas emissions caps.

"The United States needs to bring in the law," she said of the climate and clean energy bill currently stalling in the Senate. Quickly growing economies like India and China are waiting on Washington to live up to its rhetoric before they are willing to take their own steps, Hedegaard added.

The U.N. climate negotiations are still deadlocked after a U.N. summit in Copenhagen last year ended in acrimony.

Industrialized and developing nations are still at odds over how to limit the global temperature rise to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. A rise beyond that limit would result in potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity, with meteorological disasters increasing, scientists say.

Developing nations have resisted a legally binding treaty because they claim rich nations that have benefited from emitting during the past decades should shoulder more of the burden.

Industrialized countries argue the developing nations need to commit to concrete reduction targets to enable a global effort.

The European Commission recently backtracked on a plan to unilaterally boost the bloc's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target from 20 percent to 30 percent -- likely also because other nations, including China and the United States, haven't committed to similarly ambitious targets.

European officials hope that the U.S. Senate passes the U.S. climate bill before the next crucial U.N. summit in Cancun, Mexico in December.

It's not that the United States has been completely inactive.

Obama campaigned on plans for a green economic miracle and has unlocked millions of dollars to boost clean energy development and usage. However, just like his colleagues from Asia and Europe, he has failed to rally the world's nations behind a comprehensive climate protection treaty due to be passed at a U.N. summit in Copenhagen last year.

At home, the House of Representatives passed sweeping climate protection and renewable energy legislation a year ago. A similar bill in the Senate, the American Power Act drafted by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., however, has been blocked by filibuster threats. The bill would need support from at least one Republican senator to have a chance and no one seems to be considering changing sides.

Obama this week urged Americans to rally behind a "national mission" to promote clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.

In the eighth week of the catastrophic BP oil spill, Obama urged his fellow Americans to battle their longstanding dependence on fossil fuels.

"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now," Obama said. "Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny."

Obama added: "Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists but also by a lack of political courage and candor. The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight."

Officials supporting the Kerry-Lieberman bill have pointed to new figures by the Environmental Protection Agency to counter criticism that curbing emissions would hurt the U.S. economy. Lieberman said his bill would cost the average American family less than $150 a year.

"Is the American household willing to pay less than $1 a day so we don't have to buy oil from foreign countries, so we can create millions of new jobs, so we can clean up our environment? I think the answer is going to be yes," Lieberman said.

By the way: The millions of barrels of oil that have gushed into the gulf, killing fish, sea mammals and birds, damaging the ecosystem and threatening the regional economy for years to come -- know how long they would have fueled the U.S. economy? Less than four hours.

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