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Experts Sound Off on U.S. Role, Expectations for Copenhagen

BY Talea Miller  November 25, 2009 at 1:17 PM EST

A view of the coal-fuelled Cottam power station in Retford, U.K.; Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

What do you expect can be accomplished in Copenhagen?

Paul Bledsoe, director of communications and strategy for the National Commission on Energy Policy: It appears that the parties will attempt to agree to what is being called a political deal, which is not a binding treaty but instead the building blocks from which a treaty could be constructed. It is clear they are not able to get a treaty yet.

From my perspective the most important thing is to develop a profit-funding mechanism for private-sector investments in low-cost mitigation and public money to address climate change impacts in poor countries — so-called “adaptations” — and technology transfer between many countries… those are the building blocks of reducing emissions around the world. Agreeing to specific numeric targets for each country’s emission reductions is less important at this point.

Frances Beinecke, president, Natural Resources Defense Council: The priority would be to have a political agreement among the world leaders that they are committed to an international binding agreement and that they will work over the next months — or a year at the most — to make that happen.

The next step would be to come to agreement on the building blocks like the financing system and reaching an agreement on avoiding deforestation. I’m hopeful there will be something of a breakthrough on finance and that the U.S. can bring some money to the table to make a commitment that will be a strong signal to the developing world.

Amy Davidsen, U.S. executive director for the Climate Group: I think expectations to get a legally binding agreement have been dampened and I think people aren’t expecting that anymore. But there will hopefully be actionable agenda items that we can move forward on. Some of the statements by Obama recently and by China too have meant there is more hope there will be a successful meeting. We see [those statements] as a positive move forward, that there is political will to achieve some level of success in Copenhagen.

How do you think the Senate’s decision to delay taking up a climate bill will affect the summit?

Davidsen (The Climate Group): We can’t go to Copenhagen without the support of Congress, needless to say, because we don’t want to repeat what happened with the Kyoto treaty and not be able to get ratification. The important thing is that the U.S. Senate needs to feel that some of the developing nations are making some sincere and true commitments in Copenhagen and they can take that back and demonstrate to the Senate that the developing nations are also willing to reduce emissions.

Ideally, we will see some action [by Congress] in the first quarter of 2010, then we could stay on track to get a global deal in 2010.

Bledsoe (National Commission on Energy Policy): I think it was already clear that the Senate was not going to act on mandatory climate legislation until 2010. Nonetheless, U.S. enactment of carbon reductions is critical for a successful global outcome. I’m very hopeful about the U.S.’s ability to deliver emissions reductions… but the most important signal would be passage of congressional legislation is the first half of next year.

Beinecke (Natural Resources Defense Council): The whole world has been waiting for a long time for the U.S. to act and clearly nothing much happened in the proceeding 8 years…It’s a major contributing factor to not being able to reach an agreement [at Copenhagen], but I do think that we have a lot to bring to the table, we’ve made a lot of progress on the regulatory side, with the EPA but also on the legislative process. The U.S. brings some positive momentum and commitment on behalf of the president, but has fallen short on final legislation.

Do you think President Obama is right to appear at the summit?

Beinecke (Natural Resources Defense Council): He should appear because I think it’s the best way to communicate the commitment that he has and the commitment he wants the Senate to have. He has a lot he can point to that’s been accomplished over the past year so I think it’s important that he go.

Davidsen (The Climate Group): I think his actions in the past weeks with his trip to China have demonstrated the leadership that he wants to show, but I think the folks in Copenhagen [will] be delighted to see him.

Bledsoe (National Commission on Energy Policy): It is valuable for the president to set the stage and demonstrate the importance of the issue to America and our commitment, but not to be there in the second week involved in head of state negotiations because of pending legislation. I don’t believe that the president personally negotiating with European heads of state when we have legislation pending in Congress would send the best signal to the U.S. Senate.

More on our experts:
Paul Bledsoe
is the director of communications and strategy for the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group of experts representing industry, consumer, and government interests.

Frances Beinecke is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which works to protect wildlife and promote a health environment.

Amy Davidsen is the U.S. executive director for the Climate Group, a coalition of governments and influential businesses committed to addressing climate change.