The stage is being set for negotiating a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. The U.S. is trying to exert some leadership in the international climate change debate by attempting to build consensus for binding carbon emission reductions prior to the upcoming Copenhagen meeting. Meanwhile, carbon legislation is, thankfully, stalled in the Senate, and developing countries are rejecting our entreaties. You can’t win if other countries don’t want to play.

Trouble Begins at Home

The Copenhagen meeting scheduled for early December begins the formal negotiations of a follow-on agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement dedicated to reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Developing nations, such as China and India, were not included in any numerical emissions limitations in the original Kyoto agreement.

The Obama administration has signaled that it supports developing a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol but will sign a new agreement only if China commits to making "significant, robust" reductions of carbon dioxide. However, President Barack Obama can strut his moral authority for demanding international reductions in carbon emissions at Copenhagen only if the Senate passes and he signs the bloated Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) or some variant.

However, ACES is a bad hand for one specific reason: It promises to achieve only the slightest reduction in global ambient temperatures — 0.05C to 0.2C through 2050, depending on which source you believe — at the cost of trillions of dollar to the U.S. economy. John McCain, coauthor of the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act that failed a 2007 Senate vote, is quoted in the August 1 issue of The Wall Street Journal as saying, "[The Waxman-Markey] 1,400-page bill is a farce. They bought every industry off — steel mills, agriculture, utilities."

"I would not only not vote for it," he continued, "I am opposed to it entirely because it does damage to those of us who believe that we need to act in a rational fashion about climate change."

Even climate scientist James Hansen states in an editorial published by Columbia University on July 13 titled "Strategies to Address Global Warming" that "The truth is, the climate course set by Waxman-Markey is a disaster course. It is an exceedingly inefficient way to get a small reduction of emissions. It is less than worthless."

India Points to "Crisis of Credibility"

China and India do not get a pass in the upcoming negotiations as they did with Kyoto. U.S. carbon emissions have stabilized, yet the Center for Global Development estimates that China surpassed the U.S. in carbon emissions from power generation facilities in August 2008, and that country now emits a fifth of the world’s carbon. India, in third place behind the U.S., is rapidly closing the gap.

There are widely disparate views about which countries should share the economic pain that would follow from the binding reductions in carbon emissions sought in Copenhagen. The July 20 Washington Post reported on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s three-day tour of India, during which she tried to arm-twist Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh into agreeing to a binding limit on carbon emissions. First to speak to the reporters was Clinton during the post-meeting photo op. She described the meetings as "very fruitful" and so on. Next, as dozens of cameras rolled and Clinton looked on, Ramesh played his trump card: "India’s position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets." Ramesh characterized his statement as India’s official position on the subject and as "not a debating strategy."

China Says, "You Buy, You Pay"

China’s position on capping carbon emissions is similar to India’s, with a slight twist. China released a position paper on May 20 that describes its views on any future climate change agreement. The paper called on the richest countries in the world to reduce GHGs by 40% below 1990 by 2020, give up to 1% of their GDP to help poorer countries implement climate change mitigation measures, and announced their opposition to any binding limits on its emissions. The paper also adds a new twist to the discussion: "Countries that buy goods from China should be held responsible for the carbon dioxide emitted by the factories that make them."

Rock and a Hard Place

So where does that leave the U.S. going into the Copenhagen negotiations? If the negotiations were poker, then the U.S. is all-in, and China and India are calling our bluff. It looks to me as if we’re likely to draw a pair of eights to go with ACES.

Dr. Robert Peltier, PE, Editor-in-Chief