Quite a day. Obama says he’s coming to Copenhagen, emissions target in hand. Two bits of info the world’s been long awaiting. But are either good enough?
Obama will come to Copenhagen on December 9th, the first Wednesday of the talks, and the White House is keeping mum about whether or not he’ll come back on the 18th when scores of other Heads of State from around the world will be trying to hammer home the deal. Critics are already painting this to be a mere photo op for the president, but folks within the administration insist that he’s going “to give momentum to the negotiations there.”
As for the number: the provisional 17% reduction target from 2005 levels isn’t going to win many hearts and minds in the international community, but it will give the negotiators something to work with. As I’ve said time and time again, the biggest obstacle in the talks was the lack of American numbers. Now we have one of those (we’re still waiting for figures on finance). Let the games begin.
A couple relevant points, hastily cobbled together as I rush to get this up before the holiday.
On the “legally-binding” versus “politically-binding” debate: in the White House press briefing today, Mike Froman, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, offered these words:
At this point, with two weeks left before Copenhagen, the focus is on how to create an accord that has immediate operational effect and covers all the major areas of the negotiation. It’s a comprehensive accord that can get a quick start at dealing with the climate change issues. We’re working very closely with Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark, the chairman of the conference, and his team toward that end, and we’ll be working with other countries as well to maximize the chances that the negotiations can make progress towards an accord in Copenhagen.” [Emphasis added.]
This “immediate operational effect” was first brought up by Obama after the APEC meeting in Singapore and in his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Much of the knee-jerk criticism of a potential “politically-binding” deal was that it would either delay real action, negate the incentive for anyone to take real action, or both. It’s worth noting that all statements from Obama and his State Department have emphasized the need for the final legal language to be hammered out in the wake of Copenhagen, and for this Copenhagen agreement to have this “immediate operational effect.” Could it be worthless spin? Only if there’s no pressure to back up these words.
Here’s the White House statement on the US target and Obama’s trip.
And, hey, because it’s interesting to see how climate illiterate much of the White House Press Corps is, here’s a transcript of Carol Browner, one of Obama’s closest climate and energy aides, announcing the target:
MS. BROWNER: Thank you. As you all know, the President believes that the foundation of a successful international agreement has to begin with domestic actions. And in that vein, from the first day in office we have sought to take aggressive actions towards a clean energy economy and to put a cap, or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Recovery Act was the first significant step in that direction, $80 billion in clean energy investments that are rolling out across the country. We have proposed the first-ever greenhouse gas and the toughest fuel economy standards for new cars and trucks. Congress said get to 35 miles per gallon in 2020; we have proposed 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016. We have promulgated rules to promote the development of offshore wind and energy. And the Department of Energy has set aggressive new energy appliance standards and continues to move forward on setting more standards.
Now as the Copenhagen meeting comes into view, and based on the progress that we have made, as Mike spoke to, in the last couple of days and weeks, and in the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that includes robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies, the President is prepared to put on the table a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, and ultimately in line with the final U.S. domestic energy and climate legislation.
In light of the President’s –
Q Can you repeat that again? That’s a lot of detail.
MS. BROWNER: There’s more detail coming. Okay, it’s in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, and ultimately in line with the final legislation, U.S. legislation. As you are aware –
Q By 2020, you would reduce it –
MS. BROWNER: — 17 percent.
Q So that’s the Waxman-Markey level?
MS. BROWNER: It is. What we’re saying is in the range of 17 percent. Waxman-Markey, as you all are aware, passed 17 percent. The debate is not completed yet in the Senate. When the debate is fully completed then we will adjust accordingly.
Let me give you the rest of the numbers so you see the whole thing, okay? I know they’re just dying to — (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Here comes a lot of numbers.
MS. BROWNER: A lot. I’ll read really slow. (Laughter.)
In light of the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2025, and a 42 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2030.
MR. FROMAN: There will be a test on this. (Laughter.)
MS. BROWNER: Yes, let me do that again.
Q One more time.
MR. GIBBS: The poor guys trying to find the symbol function on their BlackBerry. (Laughter.)
MS. BROWNER: You have to go to the second set of symbol functions to do that. (Laughter.)
Okay, we’ll do it again. In light of the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050 — okay, 83 by 2050 — the expected pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30 percent reduction below ’05 levels by 2025.
Both the Senate and the House bills include interim measurements. They’re slightly different, but they’re fairly similar. So it would entail a 30 percent reduction below ’05 levels in 2025, and a 42 percent reduction below ’05 levels in 2030. Everybody got it?
Q The 83 percent is also measured against 2005?
MS. BROWNER: Yes.
Q That’s the G20 part adopted in L’Aquila, right?
Q Your larger point is that the House and Senate ranges are similar to what the President –
MS. BROWNER: Right, the interim is out to 2050. Obviously the House’s is completed at 17 percent. The Senate is still debating. But when you look at the bills, what the House did and what’s been in discussion in the Senate — those interim measurements out to 2050. In 2050 they’re the same, and then in between they’re fairly close.
Q Could you just repeat that one more time, Carol?
MS. BROWNER: The whole thing?
Abbott and Costello come to mind.
About the authorBen Jervey
Ben Jervey comes from New York City. He works to better communicate climate, energy, and environmental issues to mainstream audiences. His reporting and work on climate change and clean energy have brought him from the streets of New York to the glaciers of eastern Greenland, to the mountain villages of Vietnam.