The United States must push through global warming legislation if significant progress is to be made at the Cancun climate change summit in December, according to the European Union’s climate chief.
Connie Hedegaard said on Tuesday that the EU "would be ready" to sign up for a new climate treaty at the end of this year if Washington would mandate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
"The absence of movement on domestic legislation in the U.S. is without a doubt a key obstacle to progress in the international negotiations," Hedegaard said today in a lecture at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.
Without a binding commitment from the U.S., it would be difficult to get China to engage in a global agreement, she said.
"It is hard to imagine that China will be willing to bring its domestic actions into an international framework,"she said.
Her statements came as climate legislation appears increasingly unlikely to pass Congress this year.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) are expected to unveil their stalled energy and climate bill. The legislation is expected to offer an emissions-reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, about four percent below 1990 levels. That goal is in line with a commitment made by the Obama administration to nations last year.
But many observers believe the gushing oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has dashed the bill’s already slim chances. The bill is said to contain provisions for allowing offshore oil and gas exploration to lure in Republican support. In light of the disaster, however, several senators are backing off the legislation altogether.
Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, acknowledged that a bill may not happen this year.
"If we don’t get it this year, we’ll keep pressing to get it next year," Stern said this week in Mexico.
It would be "useful" if the U.S. could pass climate legislation in advance of Cancun, he said, but "a good outcome is obtainable" without it.
Hedegaard views the delay differently.
"If nothing comes out of that whole exercise [in the Senate], then [the U.S] will hear…from their European friends because we need the Americans to move on this," said Hedegaard.
"It’s crucial that they get their own legislation done. It’s crucial not only to us. It’s crucial to the whole pattern in the international negotiations."
Copenhagen Accord ‘Not Good Enough’
With the weak outcome in Copenhagen last December, global climate negotiations are on the rocks, even without the delay is passing a U.S. climate law.
The fractious summit ended with a skeletal, three-page accord that sets a goal to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The document, however, was merely noted by the UN Conference of Parties at the 11th hour and has no legal standing, allowing countries to set their own carbon-reduction targets with no enforcement.
According to recent estimates from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the greenhouse gas reduction pledges from rich nations so far would lead to a global temperature rise of 3 degrees this century.
While Hedegaard conceded the Copenhagen Accord was "not good enough," she said the talks led to some major breakthroughs. In particular, it was the first time rich nations put financial commitments on the table for helping the poor adapt to the ravages of warming—$30 billion over three years in fast-start finance and $100 billion per year by 2020.
To date, more than 120 nations have formally "associated" with the document. The world now needs a "binding agreement," Hedegaard said, though she tempered expectations of achieving that goal in Cancun.
The Mexico summit can deliver progress on reducing deforestation, adaptation and technology transfer, she said. Further, it "must" deliver fast-start money, which has yet to flow.
The precise legal form of a new treaty, however, will have to wait, Hedegaard added, but "we must have the elements from the Copenhagen Accord translated into the formal negotiations."
That could be a sticking point for poor countries.
Developing nations worry the Copenhagen Accord is being used by the rich to sideline the two tracks of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Most importantly, they fear it would kill off the Kyoto Protocol — the world’s only existing international legal instrument to cut global warming pollution.
Poor nations see the ditching of Kyoto as an end to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility," which ensures rich nations carry the world’s carbon-cutting burden.
Hedegaard did not deny that attempts were underway by wealthy nations to jettison the 1997 treaty but suggested it was the U.S., which did not ratify the treaty—not the EU—that was encouraging its demise.
"Let me say this very clearly, the EU is not the problem here," she said. "EU signed up to Kyoto. We pledged under Kyoto and we have over-delivered to Kyoto."
"Why not make those who have the problem with Kyoto take the blame for that?"
EU Losing Cleantech Race to China, U.S.
The EU is not completely off the hook, though, Hedegaard said.
"The global [cleantech] race is on. This is an excellent development in terms of fighting climate change. But it also means that we have to work even harder to stay in the lead."
In 2007, the EU set an ambitious target to cut emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. It also agreed to get 20 percent of its power from renewable sources and improve energy efficiency by 20 percent.
"That was good," Hedegaard said, but it’s no longer "good enough."
She made clear that China and the U.S., even without domestic climate laws, are leaping ahead.
As part of its national stimulus law, China is making a $230 billion investment in green technologies. The U.S., meanwhile, has plans to pump $80 billion into national clean energy and efficiency efforts under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
EU nations are investing around $30 million, Hedegaard said.
"I firmly believe that Europe needs to do more to drive our innovation and leadership if we are to avoid risking being left behind."
Hedegaard’s team is expected to present an analysis at the end May of what
it would take to deepen planned emissions cuts to 30 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade .
"My ambition as commissioner is to see Europe become the most climate friendly region in the world," she said.