The Road to Copenhagen with Climate Week in the USA and Beyond

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | September 22, 2009 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

As the name implies, global climate change is an issue impacting the entire planet.  While scientists have reached consensus about the importance of drastically reducing global warming pollution, government leaders have yet to reach consensus about the policy solutions that will get us there.  In the coming days and months, opportunities will abound for negotiators to seek fair and equitable solutions at the scale of the problem.

Climate Week kicks off today with a special high-level climate meeting called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon tomorrow (Tuesday, September 22) in New York City.  Some attendees from that gathering will then re-convene in Pittsburgh at the G-20 summit to focus on a green global economic recovery from September 24-25.   Then, later this year, government representatives from nearly 200 nations will convene in December in Copenhagen, Denmark in December for the United Nations’ Climate Negotiation 15th Gathering of the Conference of the Parties.

Activists, elected officials, and businesses alike understand the outcomes from these talks will be critical in determining the future of our planet.  However, one of the most important steps in determining the future of our entire planet lies not with future international climate negotiations, but with current climate and energy debates in the United States Congress.

As the world’s largest emitter of global warming pollution (both in historical and current emission levels), the United States has an obligation to participate in all of these discussion in good-faith – something that has been lacking for most of the past decade.   On the other hand, the seriousness of the climate change issue requires that the United States do more than simply “show up.”  In order to be taken seriously when requesting that developing nations reduce their emissions as well, US climate negotiators will need to be able to point to true and verifiable steps the US is already taking at home.  To do otherwise is like a parent saying to an errant child “Do as I say, not as I do” and would probably work just about as well.

Yet, after more than twenty years of Congressional hearings presenting evidence of global warming, the United States still lacks a national climate policy.  Time and again, and as recently as last summer, the Senate has considered various pieces of climate legislation only to fall short of the support needed to become law.  One hopes that the time is, finally, at hand.  Earlier this summer, for the first time ever, the House of Representatives passed a climate bill to reduce global warming pollution while incentivizing clean-energy solutions. And now the Senate prepares to develop and deliberate on its own version of climate and energy legislation later this year.

The president is committed to ushering in a clean energy economy as he notes that “the nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.”   China understands this sentiment and is well on its way to claiming a lion’s share of the green-tech market for renewable energy development and deployment, even from countries like the United States which developed many of these technologies in the first place.

It is vitally important that all nations engage in the G-20 talks, and later in Copenhagen, to ensure that ready solutions are available to all in attempting to solve this global climate crisis.  It is vitally important that the United States begin to lead at home if we have any wish to remain a world leader abroad.

UPDATE on 9/22

While it was heartening to hear President Obama make a clear statement about the urgency of climate change and the importance of Copenhagen in his speech on climate change before the United Nations, it was disappointing to see yet another opportunity for the US to be a leader come and go. While other countries (including China) have announced specific targets and timetables for reducing emissions, the United States remains stubbornly or mysteriously silent in this regard.  Perhaps the President avoided making specific commitments to the world community in deference to the legislative process pending before the Senate.  If so, the clock is ticking – Copenhagen convenes in just 10 weeks.  The House has acted, the President has spoken – the Senate now has a very narrow window of opportunity to act to maintain the US the reputation as a world leader.

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