US to specify target for emissions cuts, at talks on global warming
A Senate bill's target for emission cuts is akin to level US is likely to offer in Copenhagen. Ahead of the global warming talks, other nations have been waiting to see US target.
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While the numbers implied by the US Senate bill fall short of the aspirations set out in the Bali "road map" guiding the run-up to the Copenhagen meeting, this latest indication from the White house aims to show that the US is willing to take steps comparable with those of other industrial countries – provided Congress actually enacts a climate-energy bill.Skip to next paragraph
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Even with a Senate bill still a work in progress, "if you're the administration, you can go and tell a credible story that you have a plan" to reach the 2050 goals, says Andrew Deutz, a senior policy adviser for the Nature Conservancy. "Most of the countries coming to Copenhagen will come with new announcements. They'll all make contingent commitments. But this is really a positive negotiating dynamic."
Normally, the talks appear to be a race to the bottom, says Dr. Deutz, who has observed these talks since the first one in 1995. Instead, he continues, "we're seeing a race to the top. Everybody's trying to challenge everybody else to do more. That has a positive, ratcheting-up up effect in the negotiations. I find that to be really encouraging."
US negotiators include many people who took part in the effort to craft the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. They are acutely aware of the futility of negotiating a treaty that stands no chance of clearing the US Senate for ratification.
In the run-up to Monday's "on background" announcement from the White House, US negotiators had been pointing to the Senate bill whenever other countries brought up the subject of US emission-cutting goals. Now they have a somewhat more official pronouncement to work with.
The most international negotiators are hoping for now from Copenhagen is a political agreement on the main points in a new global warming treaty. Legal details would be left to work out later, either at a mid-2010 resumption of December's "recessed" talks or at the next ministerial-level talks in Mexico City in December 2010.
Meanwhile, the US Senate is not expected to act on its legislation – let alone reconcile it with the House version, which passed earlier this year – until early 2010. That makes the announcement risky for the US, says Ladislaw. If the final bill contains reduction targets that are lower than those in the current Senate legislation, the administration could be seen as failing to meet its political commitments – even if they were offered conditionally.
Still, "this is a game of inches," Ladislaw says. Echoing points of other analysts in recent days, she adds, the process "is closer to making concrete progress than it ever has been."
The process looks very incremental, even glacial, "in the court of public opinion," she explains. But if negotiators can reach political agreements on the main points, "it's a whole new negotiating environment," she says.
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