as Fiscal Cliff Talks Rage
As leaders in Washington obsess about the fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama is putting in place the building blocks for a climate treaty requiring the first fossil- fuel emissions cuts from both the U.S. and China.
State Department envoy Todd Stern is in Doha this week working to clear the path for an international agreement by 2015. While Obama failed to deliver on his promise to start a cap-and-trade program in his first term, he’s working on policies that may help cut greenhouse gases 17 percent in 2020 in the U.S., historically the world’s biggest polluter.
Obama has moved forward with greenhouse-gas rules for vehicles and new power plants, appliance standards and investment in low-emitting energy sources. He’s also called for 80 percent of U.S. electricity to come from clean energy sources, including nuclear and natural gas, by 2035.
“The president is laying the foundations for real action on climate change,” Jake Schmidt, who follows international climate policy for the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview in Doha. “Whether or not he decides to jump feet first into the international arena, we’ll see.”
Envoys from more than 190 nations are entering their second week of talks today at the United Nations conference working toward a global warming treaty. Their ambition is to agree to a pact in 2015 that would take force in 2020. It would supersede limits on emissions for industrial nations under the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. never ratified.
Obama’s push is being pursued without fanfare as the administration and Congress grapple to avert a budget crisis and $607 billion in automatic spending cuts. Unlike 2009, when Obama failed to prevent the collapse of climate talks in Copenhagen, the U.S. can point to more concrete actions it’s taking in the fight global warming.
He has more ammunition at hand. The Environmental Protection Agency is required under the Clean Air Act to move ahead with regulations on emissions from existing power plants. Those are responsible for about a third of U.S. emissions, the largest chunk.
Measures such as those, along with continued low natural gas prices and state actions, can cut emissions 16.3 percent by 2020, Resources for the Future, a research firm, estimates. Emissions already are down 8.8 percent from 2005 levels, according to Jonathan Pershing, a State Department negotiator in Doha.
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