Senator Aims to Rain on Climate Talks
COPENHAGEN - The final week of the United Nations climate change summit boils down to a battle between President Obama and the self-described "skunk at the picnic."
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has called global warming a "hoax," plans to travel this week to Copenhagen. He'll stay just long enough - as few as three hours, he says - to tell heads of state that the Senate will not pass an energy bill that would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
"We know (the bill) is never going to go to a vote," Inhofe said in a recent interview. "It's dead. It's gone . . . I'm not going to allow them to think America is going to do something it's not."
Delegates from other countries say that without Congress' support, Obama won't be able to keep whatever promises he makes when he arrives here Friday to try to seal a deal on capping emissions. Without the full cooperation of the world's second-biggest emitter behind China, any broad agreement to address global warming by the 192 nations gathered in Copenhagen will simply fall apart, they say.
"Unless the U.S. has the political will to make the necessary sacrifices, none of this will work," said Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di-Aping, the lead representative for more than 130 developing nations at the summit.
Obama has proposed cutting greenhouse gas emissions by about 17% by 2020, compared with levels in 2005. He says a firm cap on carbon dioxide produced by U.S. industry, as mandated by a House bill passed in June, will help slow global warming and provide an incentive for companies to invest in cleaner energy. The Senate is to debate an energy bill early next year.
"There are many (U.S.) companies and investors waiting for Congress to act, waiting for some certainty before they make these investments," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. He said Chinese companies were moving ahead with "green" technology: "If we don't watch out . . . they'll end up with all those jobs."
Even Republicans who say global warming may be a problem, including Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., say a cap on carbon emissions would damage the U.S. economy by pushing up energy prices. Carbon emitters such as power plants and factories would have to pay for permits to keep burning coal and oil at the same levels. The cost, Republicans say, would be passed on to consumers in higher energy bills.
The U.S. debate is one of many issues unresolved as the summit enters its second week.
"I think there needs to be more movement from everyone, more imagination, and I think we will all be striving for that," British Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said Sunday, according to the Associated Press.
Developing nations and China are pushing for the United States to make even more ambitious cuts to emissions, while refusing to bow to U.S. demands for a transparent system ensuring they meet their own targets.
China wants wealthier countries to set aside more funds for poorer nations to deal with the consequences of global warming.
The deadlock over basic issues, as well as the scarcity of money available during the global recession, has caused some to downgrade expectations for the summit. Organizers have abandoned their goal of signing a binding global treaty in Copenhagen.
"It's important to keep the issue alive, to use (Copenhagen) as kind of a placeholder . . . rather than have the issue slip off the table," said Stephen Porter, a lawyer with the Center for International Environmental Law, which works with foreign lawyers to strengthen environmental laws.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei cautioned countries against trying to save face at the summit by agreeing on goals far into the future - such as in 2050.
"If you cannot deliver on the short term or medium term, you cannot talk about the long term," the minister said Friday. By 2050, he said, "most of us will not be here anymore."