White House on Target Heading into Copenhagen

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I recently published a blog post at the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Expert Blog concerning the Obama administration’s recently announced targets for short-term greenhouse gas emissions targets in the run-up to the UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen. Below is an excerpt from that post. You can read my entire response at the National Journal.

A lot of behind-the-scenes effort, including consultations with members of Congress, appears to have gone into the White House’s recent announcement on carbon emissions reduction targets for the United States. It appears the administration concluded that announcing a target “in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020” was the best it could do to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of domestic and international politics on this issue.

The 2020 target “in the range of 17 percent” reductions might cause a little consternation, but shouldn’t. Not only is it consistent with the bill that passed the House in June, but it is also in line with a range of emission reductions recommended collectively by the members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of over two dozen major U.S. companies and 5 leading environmental and conservation organizations.

While the Administration’s bid represents progress from President Obama’s campaign commitment to stabilize emissions at 1990 levels, The Nature Conservancy will continue to press the Administration to maintain the 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels in the Senate bill.  The President’s earlier pledge was equivalent to a 14 percent cut, but since he first voiced that commitment in 2007, U.S. emissions have fallen substantially.

All of these numbers fall short of the 25 to 40 percent reductions from 1990 levels – reduction levels that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated developed countries would need to achieve in aggregate to stay on a path to keep atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations below an equivalent of 450 parts per million of CO2, even with substantial developing country contributions.

These IPCC recommendations form the basis for many developing countries’ view that the United States and other developed countries need to increase their bids.

Navigating this complex array of pressures is not easy. The administration has sensibly noted that the final target must be “ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation” and signaled that the target could be adjusted based on final legislation.

Nevertheless, it may help to achieve some results. The administration’s proposal already appears to have induced some response in China, which announced a target last Thursday. India’s position is less clear.  But administration engagement on targets and timetables can help to bolster the positions of Brazil and Indonesia, which have already put strong proposals on the table.

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