It was a very busy week last week in the world of climate change, with lots of activity on both the domestic and international fronts. UN negotiators wrapped up talks in Barcelona, the last before the big event in December in Copenhagen. And climate and energy legislation moved in various ways in the U.S. Senate.
Here is the view of where things stand from The Nature Conservancy’s climate change policy gurus: Eric Haxthausen, director of U.S. climate policy, and Duncan Marsh, director of international climate policy.
Q: At this point, what should we be looking for in Copenhagen?
Duncan Marsh: Time is short. Real progress needs to be made in the coming weeks at the highest government levels in order to put together a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen.
Negotiators in Copenhagen must consolidate their efforts over the past two years into a framework that:
- Contains the principles for actions by key countries to reduce emissions,
- Establishes a significant financial commitment to help developing countries adapt to climate change and move toward clean energy economies, and
- Commits to a comprehensive, legally-binding agreement.
Such an agreement must be finalized in legally-binding form within months, not years.
Q: There has been much attention on what the United States is doing or not doing on climate change. What about the rest of the world?
Duncan Marsh: There is growing evidence that governmental leaders from around the world are engaged behind the scenes at unprecedented levels, and are moving to take serious action on climate change. China, India, Brazil, Japan, Australia, Indonesia and others have made recent pledges to significantly limit their carbon emissions, promote clean energy or reduce deforestation.
The European Union proposed guidance on the level of funding developed countries will need to provide to effectively combat and adapt to climate change. Governments now need to make the commitments to provide that funding.
And, in the United States, the Senate took steps last week to clear a path forward on climate and energy legislation that would cap US emissions – an essential step in reaching a comprehensive global agreement.
Q: Why does getting legislation in the Senate and a global climate agreement matter?
Eric Haxthausen: Climate change is about the future of our country, and the world we leave for the next generation. But it is also about the present: We are already seeing changes, and addressing climate change now can begin to transform our economy as we put America back to work.
Duncan Marsh: We are seeing devastating droughts, floods and changing weather patterns that are displacing populations, causing food shortages and sparking social unrest that threatens each and every one of us. Scientific data tells us that the impacts of climate change – both current and future– are accelerating faster than previously predicted. All countries need to move quickly and join the global effort to reduce emissions and help people and nature adapt to this threat.
Q. Is climate and energy legislation in the Senate dependent on securing enough votes from Democrats, or will it involve bipartisan support?
Eric Haxthausen: Final passage of climate and energy legislation in the Senate will – and should – require bipartisan support. Enacting solutions to climate change is not a partisan issue. Leaders from both parties have clearly stated the urgent need to take action.
Along with the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733) coming out of committee last week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman – a Democrat, a Republican and an independent – announced this week they will work together and with others in their parties to ensure a solution is developed that can receive bipartisan support.
Q. How do last week’s actions in the U.S. Senate bode for an agreement in Copenhagen?
Eric Haxthausen: The last few days have shown real progress toward passage of a climate bill. We are hopeful that these actions, coupled with continued efforts over the next weeks by the Senate and the Obama administration, will help enable a strong outcome in Copenhagen.
Duncan Marsh: The U.S. Congress and administration must now act swiftly to fulfill the full promise of these initial actions. The coming weeks offer President Obama the opportunity to clearly demonstrate his commitment to acting seriously on climate change — and the world’s opportunity to re-embrace U.S. engagement. It will require extraordinary leadership and political will to reach the firm commitment needed in Copenhagen to safeguard our planet for future generations.