Climate of Despair? The Future of U.S. Climate Policy and Global Negotiations
The world remains in the grip of a lingering climate policy recession, which began when the tsunami of the 2008 financial crisis and recession swept away mounting desires to confront global warming. This year, once again, plenty of immediate political and economic issues, including the ongoing euro crisis, high unemployment rates, and instability in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, as well as potential leadership changes in China, France, the United States, and other major economies, will overwhelm the climate agenda. Despite a real urgency, 2012 offers the world yet another unwelcome period of insufficient climate action.
Yet this is not why many in the climate protection community inside and outside government feel depressed. No, it's the perceived slim odds of progress in 2013 and beyond that has dispirited all but the most perpetually optimistic. Many factors contribute to this pessimism but none more prominently than the slow pace of global climate negotiations and the baffling climate politics of the United States.
In this essay the author seeks to determine whether circumstances warrant this new climate of despair. Are global climate negotiations going to deliver and, if so, what and when? Are Americans really heading into the climate abyss by handing power to global warming skeptics? He concludes that global climate negotiations, while essential, will produce only a modest international agreement and probably not before 2020. He also concludes that the United States will do more than many predict, but far less than the world needs of it. While the November 2012 elections will certainly influence the U.S. emissions trajectory, U.S. emissions are likely to decline over this decade regardless of who captures the White House and Congress, although they would do so more steeply under President Obama than any Republican rival.