Despite Senate politics, world to hold U.S. accountable on climate: UN

BOSTON - JANUARY 20:  U.S. Republican Senate-e...

Scott Brown

With Scott Brown’s election to the Senate yesterday, hope has dimmed that the United States will cap its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming year, and on that hope rests the greater hope that the rest of the warming world can do the same.

But the world has no intention of letting the United States off the hook, one of its more patient spokesmen warned this morning.

“The president of the United States committed to a 17 percent emission reduction in Copenhagen,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, which hosted the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenahgen last month.

“The president of the United States committed to more ambitious reductions in 2030 and 2050. It is to those statements that the international community will hold the government of the United States accountable.”

There is some question what power the international community has to hold the U.S. accountable. Canada failed to meet its obligations under the legally binding Kyoto Protocol, apparently without repercussions. But de Boer downplayed the significance of Scott’s election near the end of a press conference in Bonn today, his first since the Copenhagen summit concluded Dec. 19.

“The change of one state from one party to another is not going to create a landslide in the politics of the United States on the question of climate change,” he said. “I think the US, through both the Democrats and the Republicans is fully committed to action on climate change agenda.

“The question is how that agenda will be carried out: will it be carried out through cap and trade, will it be carried out through EPA regulation, or some other route.”

The Obama Administration has the power to cap carbon emissions through the Clean Air Act, but EPA regulation on that front would likely be delayed by lawsuits, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in Copenhagen. That’s not the only hurdle. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to attempt this week to strip the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.

Despite such relentless Republican opposition, and despite the presence in the Senate of Republicans like James Inhofe, Yvo de Boer believes the Republicans will get on board.

“Maybe I’ve been in this process too long,” he said, “but I remember a highly skeptical George W. Bush denying the need for action on climate change, and eight years later that far less skeptical George W. Bush actually agreeing to the Bali Roadmap, which was the mandate for the negotiations that were supposed to have been concluded in Copenahgen and that will now go on to Mexico.

“In that sense, I don’t think any political development in the US means turning back nine years of political development in the climate change agenda.”

The U.S. ultimately will act to preserve its own economy and energy security, he said.

The new senator-elect of Massachusetts has stated he opposes a carbon cap and trade program and has suggested he doubts the climate science that has given rise to such legislation. His opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Cloakey, would have been a certain yes vote.

The Democrats need 60 votes to override Republican filibusters. With that supermajority lost, attention has shifted to the possibility of enacting the president’s agenda through budget reconciliation, which requires only a 51-vote majority. However, the Senate voted in March to bar the use of reconciliation to pass cap and trade.

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