December 15, 2010

US Climate Efforts Stalled Out In 2010

A new international deal on global warming was reached in Cancun on December 11, easing the minds of environmentalists worried that another summit would end with no agreement, but casting a shadow over the issue is the political shift in the United States where legislative climate efforts stalled in 2010.

President Barack Obama's administration played an active role in bringing the climate deal together, which pledged deep cuts in carbon emissions blamed for climate change and set up a new global fund to administer international aid.

But in Washington, a carbon restrictions bill died in the Senate. That was even before mid-term elections in which the Democratic Party was clobbered by Republicans, some of whom doubt most scientists' views that the world is heating up.

"Obviously, whether or not the US can live up to its commitment is an issue that is stuck in the back of people's minds," Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, told the AFP news agency.

Chief US negotiator Todd Stern, whom other envoys welcomed with applause when he replaced former President Bush's climate team, remained guarded on whether the Cancun accord could turn around the mood in Washington.

Stern said the accord should satisfy US political players who have insisted on verifiable action on climate change by other nations -- especially China, which has surpassed the United States as the largest carbon emitting country.

"It doesn't mean I think you're suddenly going to get the votes to pass last year's bill, because that's not going to happen right away. But I think it's generally a helpful development," Stern told AFP.

Senator John Kerry, who led the climate bill, welcomed the Cancun deal, saying that far more action was needed "to prevent catastrophe," with experts pointing to worsening weather systems and disasters as evidence of climate change.

"The United States needs to get back in the game today instead of being held back by obstructionism and broken politics at home, which have hurt us not just in the race to address climate change, but which have set us back in the race to define the clean energy economy and all the good jobs that come with it," the former presidential candidate said.

But Republican lawmakers have criticized one of the key points of the Cancun accord -- a $100 billion-a-year fund beginning in 2020 to aid the poorest nations affected by climate change blamed mostly on industrialized nations' emissions.

Four Republican senators, led by John Barrasso of Wyoming, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raising questions about the science behind climate change and noted the US is dealing with spiraling debt and high rates of unemployment.

"It makes no sense for the United States to now spend billions of taxpayer dollars to fight climate change in other countries," the four Republicans wrote. "If the administration is serious about listening to the American people, they will cancel this international climate change bailout," they added.

The European Union and Japan have led pledges to the proposed fund, with Clinton saying last year at the Copenhagen summit that the US would also contribute to the fund.

The new Green Climate Fund was set up to administer aid. The fund itself, which came together because of the Cancun accord, will be administered by the World Bank.

Climate talks watcher Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it would be nearly impossible to convince climate skeptics, but said the Cancun accord was welcomed after the widely criticized, and failed, Copenhagen accord.

If the Cancun talks had failed, opponents would have likely said "'the world isn't serious and we told you so'," said Meyer. "So we avoided a negative, and we got a small positive," he said.

Despite the shift in Washington, a number of US states are moving on their own against climate change, including California, which put together a cap-and-trade system after voters rejected a referendum to stop it.


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