Waiting for new U.S. administration a risky strategy for tackling climate change
On June 11, GMF hosted a climate policy lunch discussion for senior officials from embassies of G-8 countries and the United States government to discuss options for crafting a policy framework for future international climate cooperation. At the Hokkaido-Toyako Summit in July, world leaders will discuss the global economy, climate change, and other pressing issues on the international agenda. At the tail end of the meeting, Japan will also host the Major Economies Meeting (MEM), an initiative launched by President Bush last year that involves the world's 16 major economic powers and emitters, plus the EU. These meetings may present some of the best opportunities for progress on climate policy in 2008.
Nigel Purvis, author of a new GMF paper entitled "Narrowing the Transatlantic Climate Policy Divide: A Roadmap for Progress," opened the discussion at the event with a short presentation about his work. Mr. Purvis made the case for why major economies should work to lock in key architectural aspects or legal frameworks for a future international climate agreement at the Hokkaido-Toyako Summit in Japan this July, rather than waiting until a new U.S. administration is in place in 2009. He called waiting a risky strategy, particularly given that the new U.S. administration will likely have the same position as President Bush on the need for rapidly industrializing countries like China and India to take on legally binding climate commitments. Mr. Purvis cited quotes from both Senators Obama and McCain calling for legally binding action from China and India to combat climate change.
Mr. Purvis emphasized three benefits of pinning down a strong climate statement from major economies or G-8 nations this summer. First, it would provide a clear picture of where global climate negotiations should head to reach the Bali Roadmap deadline for creating a new climate agreement in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Second, a G-8 or major economies climate statement supported by the Bush administrationAdministration would help soften opposition to U.S. participation in a new climate agreement from conservative members of Congress. Finally, resolving some key issues on the climate negotiation agenda this year would help to avoid overloading the negotiations in 2009.
He also highlighted how the Bush administration's positions on international climate issues have shifted this year, providing an important opportunity for progress in the near-term that he said should not be bypassed. Bush indicated in April 2008 that the United StatesU.S. is willing to take on a binding international climate commitment so long as other major economies are prepared to do the same. A deal that could be reached at the July Hokkaido Summit would likely call for countries to agree that major emitters must take on legally binding commitments to mitigate their emissions significantly by 2020. Under such a deal, developed nations might commit to quantitative, legally binding, and fixed national targets. Major developing country emitters should commit to legally binding, nation-appropriate, quantitative targets. These countries will choose from a menu of approaches, including a variety of sector-specific technology standards, performance goals, and other options.
Event participants discussed whether it would be more desirable to agree on architectural elements of a future climate agreement at the MEM or the G-8 meeting. Some felt this agreement would ideally be reached during the MEM, where China, India, and other rapidly industrializing nations will be involved in the discussions. However, others felt that if such an agreement could not be reached at the MEM, including it in a G-8 statement on climate change would help to unify transatlantic parties on key architectural aspects of a future climate treaty.
Participants also discussed the tactical pros and cons of making progress on climate change at the Hokkaido Summit in July. Some mentioned the risk that developing countries might react negatively to a call for legally binding commitments now, before the U.S., Europe, and other G-8 nations get more specific about their own mitigation commitments. Others indicated that this risk may be outweighed by the benefits of coming forward this summer with a new statement on important legal aspects of a future climate agreement. These benefits include signaling to other nations where global discussions need to head, helping to immunize a future climate deal from domestic political attacks by conservatives in the United States (by securing President Bush's endorsement of the general framework), and minimizing the number of transatlantic disagreements that must be addressed next year in an already crowded diplomatic calendar.
The group also discussed an amendment introduced during the Senate debate on the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner climate bill during the first week of June which calls on the United States to participate in a climate agreement that includes legally binding commitments by all countries that are major emitters of greenhouse gases.