The United Nations is hosting an all-day summit
on climate change today. President Obama already delivered a speech
this morning. The environmental threat facing the planet is monumental--but so, too, is the level of difficultly when it comes to reaching international consensus on what to do about it. Beyond the standard vows to act swiftly and statements of concern, what's going on behind the scenes, and what are the implications?
- Economic Case for Climate Action Tony Blair and Nicholas Stern
argued that addressing climate change would carry broad economic benefits.
"Although climate change is ostensibly an environmental issue, what
makes it seemingly so intractable is that the questions that divide
countries – and which should bring them together – are economic and go
to the heart of government policy," they wrote. "However, the fact that
it makes long-term economic sense to act now
does not deal with the issues that most concern governments: short-term
economic impacts and how they affect jobs and growth, and how the
emissions reductions are to be financed, especially in the context of
shrinking public budgets." Blair and Stern suggested that international
cooperation would expedite the economic benefits of climate change
Obama Alone is Not Enough TreeHugger's Matthew McDermott cautioned
that, as encouraging as Obama's words may be to environmentalists and
the international community, he does not necessarily reflect the
political will of America. "The gap between Obama's statements and the
attitude of some members of Congress and the American public is vast,"
- European-U.S. Tension Overshadows The Financial Times pointed out
a "growing rift between the U.S. and Europe" that is "overshadowing"
today's summit and "damping hopes" of serious action on climate change.
The Times reported, "European Union officials have grown increasingly
frustrated at the U.S.
stance, saying it has fallen short on both its level of ambition to
reduce emissions and on offering aid to developing nations." Europeans
decry health care for taking up too much of the White House's
attention, while U.S. officials claim the American system, requiring
Congressional approval for action, simply operates more slowly.
- U.S. Positioned for Major Climate Action Jake Schmidt urged optimism,
saying the U.S. is "poised for action more than at any time in the past"
and will likely not repeat its refusal to join another international climate agreement, as it did with the Kyoto Accord. Schmidt cited the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the classification of CO2 as a
pollutant; global warming legislation; and clean energy
spending in the stimulus. He also noted that negotiations that appear doomed often yield surprising results, as in Bali in 2007. "Many times
these negotiations only look like agreement can be reached minutes
after it is actually reached."
- China and India Will Disappoint The Atlantic's Nicole Allan
criticized the two developing nations, but gave China credit for
improving. "China is putting climate change on its agenda," she wrote, even while calling President Hu's suggested reforms "a handy method of
maintaining the status quo." Allan said India, still reeling from
internal backlash over last year's commitments to environmental reforms,
"may not even bother to make China's expected
- Let's Remember Nature's 'Intrinsic Value' Invoking the words of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Matthew McDermott pointed out that beyond reasons of trade and economics, nature itself is valuable. Kagame said, "There is intrinsic value in
nature, beyond the products we enjoy." McDermott lamented, "Not often do you hear a world leader making that point. You
wouldn't hear [Chinese President] Hu or Obama expressing that sentiment
at this sort of
gathering. Perhaps that's natural, considering the relative global
positions of China/US and Rwanda, but nice nonetheless."
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