The Intersection

Good Golly from Bali

i-618a41f31d304e8475b72258bc4f914d-UNLogo.jpgI’m preparing for a KPFA radio interview this morning, and so have had to brush up on precisely what went down in Bali over the past week. In essence: Everything, and nothing.

Global delegates agreed to a plan that (we hope) will eventually lead to a successor to the weak tea and expiring Kyoto Protocol. That successor treaty will be negotiated in late 2009 in Copenhagen–two years from now.

In Bali the U.S. was essentially browbeaten by the rest of the world–global moral suasion proved powerful enough to get State Department negotiator Paula Dobriansky to stop blocking the development of the Bali action plan (PDF).

But the U.S. also prevailed in preventing that plan from explicitly mentioning targets for emissions reductions: the plan calls for “deep cuts,” but doesn’t get any more explicit in its official language. As far as I can tell from news reports, the issue that Dobriansky backed down on turned on technology assistance to developing countries to help them reduce their emissions–not actual emission reduction targets for developed countries like the U.S.

In any event, we now launch into two years of negotiations–but the crucial event influencing their course will not actually occur at any U.N. meeting. Rather, it all hinges on the U.S. election, and getting a president who will take the lead on global warming, as Bush has so conspicuously failed to do.

If the U.S. steps up to the plate, the rest of the world will follow. If the U.S. doesn’t step up to the plate, the rest of the world will….well, warm. A lot.

In this connection I want to point you to a story that I’ve just done for The American Prospect–entitled “This Will Mean the World to Us.” You can’t read the whole thing online, but in essence, it’s a roadmap of my own–for the next U.S. president in dealing with global warming through domestic policy (first) and international negotiation (second).

The task is literally unprecedented. First we need a domestic cap and trade bill passed that finally limits greenhouse gas emissions–and the next president must be very strategic about getting as strong a bill as possible without overreaching and getting nothing. Something like Lieberman-Warner sounds like the edge of the politically possible right now in this regard.

And of course, getting the bill is just the first step–we also need massive investments in energy technology research (something like $ 150 billion over the next decade), across the board reforms in energy efficiency, a comprehensive suite of adaptation measures to get ready for the changes we can no longer prevent…

And only once all of that has been accomplished can we then really go back to the international arena with something to show for ourselves. Granted, the policymaking process won’t be fully stepwise given the U.N. timetable…but let’s hope that by late 2009 in Copenhagen, the U.S. already has a greenhouse gas bill that has gone through Congress and been signed by the president.

Only then will we finally–finally–have the moral standing to lead in international climate negotiations.


  1. #1 Wes Rolley
    December 17, 2007

    If the Energy Bill passed by the current Democratic Congress is any indication of the rate of change the we will see in US Policy, then the situation is grim. It is still filled with “how can I lock in the votes of xxxxx constituency” and “how can I continue to get the big corporate contributions” concessions.

    I am, in particular, very disappointed in the manner by which the “renewable fuel standard” will exacerbate the problem of Green House gases rather than solve it. We will pay for this in the grocery store as well as at the fuel pump as more land is converted from growing food to growing energy feed stock.

    I agree on your point that domestic policy must come first. That is obvious. US policy in this area is a security issue. Get it wrong and we will escalate the ranks of those who hate us. It is time to lead by doing and that takes political courage that I see very little of.

  2. #2 Gerard Harbison
    December 17, 2007

    I’m amused you think ‘moral standing’ counts for anything in international politics. The Japanese are hunting whales, still, despite global moral revulsion. The Brazilians and Indonesians are destroying their rainforests; Sudan and Zimbabwe were still invited to the Lisbon talks despite universal condemnation of their policies.

  3. #3 Eric the Leaf
    December 17, 2007

    In addition…

    After passage in the House of the new energy bill, one democrat interviewed on NPR said something to the effect that the bill “would send a message to OPEC.” This is so totally ignorant as to be mind-boggling.

    Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) voted against the bill for all the right reasons.

    Both democrats and republicans are so misinformed about our energy predicament (it’s not all climate change related, mind you) that I hold little hope that a president from either party will take meaningful action.

    Some interesting things are happening at the local level. See the legislative work being done by Connecticut state respresentative Terry Backer (visit Fred Bortz’s website for more of what he is up to).

  4. #4 David Roberts
    December 17, 2007

    Two notes:

    1. The energy bill passed by the House, thanks to the tenacity of Nancy Pelosi, was fantastic. Yes, it still had the RFS, but with more environmental safeguards built in, and in addition to it a Renewable Portfolio Standard and a tax package to move subsidies from oil to renewables.

    All that stuff got stripped out in the Senate to appease Republicans. Yes, Reid should come in for criticism for not having better control of his caucus. But ultimately the fault for the crappiness of the final energy bill rests with Republicans. Don’t lose sight of that basic fact.

    2. Please, please don’t content yourself that Lieberman-Warner is “the edge of the politically possible.” The window of what’s politically possible has shifted unbelievably far in the past year or two, and it’s still moving. There’s every reason to believe that more will be possible in a year or two. Don’t stop pushing.

  5. #5 Fred Bortz
    December 17, 2007

    Eric the Leaf writes:

    “…visit Fred Bortz’s website for more of what [CT state rep. Terry Backer] is up to.”

    Terry added some comments to an entry at my Blog, not my website.

    Click below for the blog article. Click my name for my children’s science website.

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